Significance: Skin wounds cause great distress and are a huge economic burden, particularly with an increasingly aging population that heals poorly. There is an urgent need for better therapies that improve repair. Intracellular signaling pathways that regulate wound repair are activated by growth factors, hormones, and cytokines released at the wound. In addition, endogenous electric fields (EFs) are generated by epithelia in response to injury and are an important cue that coordinates cell behavior at wounds. Electrical stimulation (ES), therefore, holds the potential to be effective therapeutically in treating wounds.
Recent Advances: ES of wounds is an old idea based on observations of the natural occurrence of EF at wound sites. However, it is now receiving increasing attention, because (1) the underpinning mechanisms are being clarified; (2) devices that measure skin wound currents are in place; and (3) medical devices that apply EF to poorly healing wounds are in clinical use with promising results.
Critical Issues: Several signaling proteins transduce the EF influence to cells. However, a bigger picture of the EF-proteome is needed in order to understand this complex process and target it in a controlled manner.
Future Directions: Dissecting the signaling pathways driving electrical wound healing will allow further identification of key molecular switches that control the cellular response to EFs. These findings herald the development of a new concept, the use of hydrogel electrodes impregnated with small molecules that target signaling pathways to explore the potential of dual electric-pharmacological therapies to repair wounds.
Bibliographical noteThe authors are grateful to Dr. Tanya Shaw for
her critical comments and scientific discussion.