Dose-Dependent ATP Depletion and Cancer Cell Death following Calcium Electroporation, Relative Effect of Calcium Concentration and Electric Field Strength

Emilie Louise Hansen1, Esin Bengisu Sozer2, Stefania Romeo3, Stine Krog Frandsen1, P. Thomas Vernier2, Julie Gehl1*



Electroporation, a method for increasing the permeability of membranes to ions and small molecules, is used in the clinic with chemotherapeutic drugs for cancer treatment (electrochemotherapy). Electroporation with calcium causes ATP (adenosine triphosphate) depletion and cancer cell death and could be a novel cancer treatment. This study aims at understanding the relationship between applied electric field, calcium concentration, ATP depletion and efficacy.


In three human cell lines—H69 (small-cell lung cancer), SW780 (bladder cancer), and U937 (leukaemia), viability was determined after treatment with 1, 3, or 5 mM calcium and eight 99 μs pulses with 0.8, 1.0, 1.2, 1.4 or 1.6 kV/cm. Fitting analysis was applied to quantify the cell-killing efficacy in presence of calcium. Post-treatment intracellular ATP was measured in H69 and SW780 cells. Post-treatment intracellular ATP was observed with fluorescence confocal microscopy of quinacrine-labelled U937 cells.


Both H69 and SW780 cells showed dose-dependent (calcium concentration and electric field) decrease in intracellular ATP (p<0.05) and reduced viability. The 50% effective cell kill was found at 3.71 kV/cm (H69) and 3.28 kV/cm (SW780), reduced to 1.40 and 1.15 kV/cm (respectively) with 1 mM calcium (lower EC50 for higher calcium concentrations). Quinacrine fluorescence intensity of calcium-electroporated U937 cells was one third lower than in controls (p<0.0001).

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