DC Electric Fields Induce Perpendicular Alignment and Enhanced Migration in Schwann Cell Cultures

  • Spencer J. Bunn
  • Alexander Lai
  • Jianming LiEmail author


Schwann cells (SCs) are PNS glia that play numerous support functions including myelination of axons. After PNS injury, SCs facilitate regeneration by phagocytosing cellular debris and providing physical and biochemical cues to guide axon growth. This reparative phenotype suggests SCs could be critical cellular targets for enhancing nerve regeneration. One method for altering cell morphology and motility is the application of direct current (DC) electric fields (EFs). Endogenous EFs have physiologic relevance during embryogenesis and serve as guidance and polarization cues. While much literature exists on EFs and CNS and PNS neurons, the effects of EFs on SCs have not been extensively studied. In this work, cell alignment, migration, and morphology of rat SCs were measured in response to several EF stimulation regimes including constant DC, 50% duty cycle DC and oscillating DC. SCs were found to re-orient perpendicular to field lines and respond to DC EFs as low as 75 mV/mm. EF exposure promoted directed migration, with travel towards the cathode at a mean rate of 7.5 µm/h. The data highlight the utility of EFs in modulating SC morphology, alignment and migration. Results may have implications for using EFs to attract and realign SCs at the site of PNS trauma.


Galvanotaxis Electrotaxis Peripheral nerve repair Voltage gradient Bands of Bungner 



This study was completed at the Center for Paralysis Research with funding provided by the State of Indiana. The authors thank Megan Saenger and Bhavani Gopalakrishnan for their assistance with cell culture.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Biomedical Engineering Society 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Paralysis ResearchPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biomedical EngineeringPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  3. 3.Department of Basic Medical SciencesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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