Cell Surface Deformation during an Action Potential

Christian Fillafer, Matan Mussel, Julia Muchowski, Matthias F. Schneider

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The excitation of many cells and tissues is associated with cell mechanical changes. The evidence presented herein corroborates that single cells deform during an action potential. It is demonstrated that excitation of plant cells (Chara braunii internodes) is accompanied by out-of-plane displacements of the cell surface in the micrometer range (∼1–10 μm). The onset of cellular deformation coincides with the depolarization phase of the action potential. The mechanical pulse: 1) propagates with the same velocity as the electrical pulse (within experimental accuracy, ∼10 mm s−1), 2) is reversible, 3) in most cases is of biphasic nature (109 out of 152 experiments), and 4) is presumably independent of actin-myosin-motility. The existence of transient mechanical changes in the cell cortex is confirmed by micropipette aspiration experiments. A theoretical analysis demonstrates that this observation can be explained by a reversible change in the mechanical properties of the cell surface (transmembrane pressure, surface tension, and bending rigidity). Taken together, these findings contribute to the ongoing debate about the physical nature of cellular excitability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)410-418
Number of pages9
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 23 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics


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