Directed migration of human bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells in a physiological direct current electric field

Zhiqiang Zhao, Carolyn Watt, Alexandra Karystinou, Anke J. Roelofs, Colin D. McCaig, Iain R. Gibson, Cosimo De Bari* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Citations (Scopus)


At sites of bone fracture, naturally-occurring electric fields (EFs) exist during healing and may guide cell migration. In this study, we investigated whether EFs could direct the migration of bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (BM-MSCs), which are known to be key players in bone formation. Human BM-MSCs were cultured in direct current EFs of 10 to 600 mV/mm. Using time-lapse microscopy, we demonstrated that an EF directed migration of BM-MSCs mainly to the anode. Directional migration occurred at a low threshold and with a physiological EF of ~25 mV/mm. Increasing the EF enhanced the MSC migratory response. The migration speed peaked at 300 mV/mm, at a rate of 42 ±1 µm/h, around double the control (no EF) migration rate. MSCs showed sustained response to prolonged EF application in vitro up to at least 8 h. The electrotaxis of MSCs with either early (P3-P5) or late (P7-P10) passage was also investigated. Migration was passage-dependent with higher passage number showing reduced directed migration, within the range of passages examined. An EF of 200 mV/mm for 2 h did not affect cell senescence, phenotype, or osteogenic potential of MSCs, regardless of passage number within the range tested (P3-P10). Our findings indicate that EFs are a powerful cue in directing migration of human MSCs in vitro. An applied EF may be useful to control or enhance migration of MSCs during bone healing.
Original languageEnglish
Article number-
Pages (from-to)344-358
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Cells & Materials
Issue number-
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2011


  • adult human bone marrow
  • mesenchymal stem cells
  • cell migration
  • tissue regeneration
  • direct-current electrical fields
  • osteogenesis


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