Airway epithelial wounds in rhesus monkey generate ionic currents that guide cell migration to promote healing

Yao Hui Sun, Brian Reid, Justin H. Fontaine, Lisa A. Miller, Dallas M. Hyde, Alex Mogilner, Min Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Damage to the respiratory epithelium is one of the most critical steps to many lifethreatening diseases, such as acute respiratory distress syndrome and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The mechanisms underlying repair of the damaged epithelium have not yet been fully elucidated. Here we provide experimental evidence suggesting a novel mechanism for wound repair: Endogenous electric currents. It is known that the airway epithelium maintains a voltage difference referred to as the transepithelial potential. Using a noninvasive vibrating probe, we demonstrate that wounds in the epithelium of trachea from rhesus monkeys generate significant outward electric currents. A small slit wound produced an outward current (1.59 μA/cm2), which could be enhanced (nearly doubled) by the ion transport stimulator aminophylline. In addition, inhibiting cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) with CFTR(Inh)-172 significantly reduced wound currents (0.17 μA/cm 2), implicating an important role of ion transporters in wound induced electric potentials. Time-lapse video microscopy showed that applied electric fields (EFs) induced robust directional migration of primary tracheobronchial epithelial cells from rhesus monkeys, towards the cathode, with a threshold of <23 mV/mm. Reversal of the field polarity induced cell migration towards the new cathode. We further demonstrate that application of an EF promoted wound healing in a monolayer wound healing assay. Our results suggest that endogenous electric currents at sites of tracheal epithelial injury may direct cell migration, which could benefit restitution of damaged airway mucosa. Manipulation of ion transport may lead to novel therapeutic approaches to repair damaged respiratory epithelium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1031-1041
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • Cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator
  • Electric fields
  • Transepithelial potential
  • Wound healing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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