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Note: Research in this publication was not performed at Janelia.
High powered, nanosecond duration, pulsed electric fields (nsPEF) cause cell death by a mechanism that is not fully understood and have been proposed as a targeted cancer therapy. Numerous chemotherapeutics work by disrupting microtubules. As microtubules are affected by electrical fields, this study looks at the possibility of disrupting them electrically with nsPEF. Human glioblastoma cells (U87-MG) treated with 100, 10 ns, 44 kV/cm pulses at a frequency of 10 Hz showed a breakdown of their interphase microtubule network that was accompanied by a reduction in the number of growing microtubules. This effect is temporally linked to loss of mitochondrial membrane potential and independent of cellular swelling and calcium influx, two factors that disrupt microtubule growth dynamics. Super-resolution microscopy revealed microtubule buckling and breaking as a result of nsPEF application, suggesting that nsPEF may act directly on microtubules.