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Mathematical modeling of electroporation in cardiac myocytes using

COMSOL Multiphysics

I. De la Pava, est Ms.C, V. Gomez est Ms.C, O. Henao Ph.D, J. Sanchez Ph.D

Cell physiology group, electrophysiological models and electroporation, UTP, Pereira, Colombia

Keywords: Diffusion equation, cell electroporation, cardiac increase in membrane permeability enhances the uptake of
myocyte, finite elements method. chemotherapeutic drugs into the cell in a cancer treatment
known as electrochemotherapy, it is used to facilitate non-viral
Abstract delivery of DNA to cells, and for transdermal drug delivery.
IRE is used as a low invasive tissue ablation technique, and
Cell electroporation is a technique based on cellular stimula- also in water purification and inactivation of microorganisms
tion by pulsed electric fields. Cardiac myocytes undergo such present in food [1, 2, 3].
stimulation during processes associated with cardiac defibril-
lation. In this paper we simulated a mathematical model of The study of electroporation of cardiac myocytes is of
cardiac myocytes membrane electroporation for different elec- special interest due to its occurrence during cardiac defibrilla-
trode orientations in COMSOL Multiphysics. The model con- tion processes. Several experimental works have been carried
sists of Laplaces equation for the electric potential, a reduced out to study the effects of high-voltage pulsed electric fields
version of Smoluchowskis equation for the pore distribution, on both the whole heart and individual myocytes [4, 5, 6, 7],
and Nernst-Plancks equation for the changes in the ionic con- but in many cases the direct experimental measurement of
centrations. Our results show an asymmetric pore density dis- the different phenomena associated with membrane electro-
tribution, with larger values present on the membrane regions poration is not possible and the use of numerical simulations
facing the positive electrode, in agreement with previous ex- becomes necessary. In this study we implemented a prelim-
perimental studies. inary simulation methodology for electroporation of cardiac
myocytes based on the finite element method. The induced
1 Introduction transmembrane voltage (ITV), and the pore formation density
Electroporation is an increase of the cell membrane permeabil- for different electrode orientations were obtained and ana-
ity due to the formation of aqueous pores in it when the cell lyzed. The total electroporation current and its different ionic
is under the influence of an intense electric field. The electric components for one electrode orientation were also obtained.
field induces a voltage difference across the membrane that
superimposes to the rest membrane potential. The increase in 2 Mathematical model
the membrane permeability takes place when the total voltage
difference across the membrane exceeds a critical value (Vc ). The process of electroporation consists in the formation of hy-
According to the literature, the value of Vc varies between drophilic pores in the cell membrane when the cell is exposed
200 mV and 1 V [1, 2]. Electroporation also depends on the to an external electric field. The presence of these pores alters
characteristics of the voltage pulses used to create the external the membrane conductivity. As the number of pores increases
electric field, such as their amplitude, shape, frequency and so does the conductivity of the cell membrane. Since the cre-
the number of applied pulses. Increasing the pulses ampli- ated pores act as new current conduction pathways, electropo-
tude leads to a bigger permeabilized area on the membrane, ration can be modeled introducing an additional term to the
whereas increasing their number or duration has effect on the expression that describes the current density (J) through the
number and size of the created pores [1, 3]. Needle or parallel membrane, as shown in Equation (1)[8, 9]
plate electrodes are used to generate the voltage pulses. The
induced transmembrane voltage, responsible of the membrane m m
J= (Vi Vo ) + (Vi Vo ) + Iep (1)
permeability increase, can be measured with electrodes or d d t
using fluorescent potentiometric dyes [1]. Electroporation Where Iep is known as the total electroporation current
is divided in reversible electroporation (RE) and irreversible
electroporation (IRE). The mechanism by which the electric Iep = N iep (2)
field permeabilizes the cell membrane is similar in both cases,
however in RE the formed pores reseal after the procedure and Iep is made of several ionic species that flow through the
the cell can survive, while in IRE the electric field induces pores created on the cell membrane due to the presence of the
cellular death. RE has several clinical applications: the external electric field and concentration gradients. The current
though each pore iep for all the ionic species j is given by Equa- 3 Numerical simulation
tion (3)[9]
To solve the set of coupled equations presented in Equations
(6), (7), (8) and (9) for cardiac myocytes we used the AC/DC,
rm F vm X Dj zj2 ([cj ]i ezj vm [cj ]o ) Transport of Diluted Species and General Form Boundary
iep = (3)
d i
Aezj vm B PDE (gb) modules of the finite element method (FEM) based
simulation software COMSOL Multiphysics. The FEM is a
wo zj e[zj (wo zj nvm )] nvm numerical method to solve problems that can be model by
wo zj nvm partial differential equations and a set of boundary conditions.
The method is based on the discretization of the problem
wo zj e[zj (wo zj +nvm )] + nvm domain to create a series of smaller subdomains or finite
wo zj + nvm elements in a process known as meshing. The numerical
Equation (1) can be rewritten as Equation (4) solution corresponds to the values of the variable of interest on
the nodes or edges of the discretized domain. In the interior
(t) m of each element those values are computed from a series of
J= (Vi Vo ) + (Vi Vo ) (4)
d d t interpolation functions previously defined. The solution is
Where the variable membrane conductivity is given by obtained by solving a linear system of equations built from
Equation (5) the differential equation that governs the problem and its
associated boundary conditions [2, 10].
N iep d
(t) = m + (5)
Vm We built a simplified cellular geometry of a cardiac
From Equation (3) (t) can be expressed as Equation (6) myocyte based on the data given in [11, 12], and discretized it
with an adaptive meshing defined by COMSOL as extra-fine
for the model. The minimum and maximum sizes of the
2 F 2 X Dj zj2 ([cj ]i ezj vm [cj ]o )
(t) = m + N rm (6) tetragonal elements used in the domain discretization were
RT i Aezj vm B
0.417 m and 9.73 m, respectively. The simulation was
executed at t=1 ms for three different parallel-plate electrode
vm = Vm orientations: with the myocyte axis at 0, 45 and 90 degrees
with respect to the direction of the electric field. The boundary
The change rate of the intracellular ionic concentration conditions needed to solve the set of differential equations are
[cj ]i , present in Equation (6), is described by Nernst-Plancks the same as in [1, 8, 9]. We assumed a monophasic electro-
equation [Equation (7)] that considers the diffusive movement poration pulse, with a frequency under 1 kHz and amplitude
of the ions due to concentration gradients and their migration of 20 V. We treated the electrical properties of the my-
in the electric field. ocyte as isotropic and ignored its excitable characteristics. The
  values of the parameters used in the model are listed in Table 1.
[cj ]i Dj zj F
= Dj [cj ]i + [cj ]i i (7)
t RT The average required time to obtain a solution was 35 min-
utes on a DELL Precision T3600 computer with a four Intel
The differential equations that govern the spatial and tem-
Xeon processor, 32 GB RAM and Nvidia Gforce 4600 2 MB.
poral distribution of the electric potential and the pore density
The version of the software used to solve the coupled differen-
N are given by Laplaces equation [Equation (8)] and a re-
tial equations was COMSOL Multiphysics 4.2.
duced version of Smoluchowskis equation [Equation (9)], re-
4 Results and discussion

+ (x, y, z, t) = 0 (8) 4.1 Induced transmembrane voltage
Vm 2
  2  The distribution of the ITV is a determinant factor in the pro-
dN N q V m
= e Vep 1 e Vep
(9) cess of electroporation. In Figures 1, 2 and 3 we show the in-
dt N0 duced transmembrane voltage for the three simulated electrode
Thus, to simulate this electroporation model, developed in orientations vs. the arc length (geometries with polar symme-
detail in [8, 9], it is necessary to solve simultaneously three try). In every case we obtained membrane hyperpolarization in
highly coupled partial differential equations. The pore density the regions facing the positive electrode, and a potential plateau
depends on the induced transmembrane voltage, and also on the close to the magnitude of Vc in the electroporated areas.
changes in ionic concentrations. The induced transmembrane
voltage depends on the membrane conductivity, and the latter 4.2 Pore density distribution
depends on the pore density N . Finally the changes in ionic
concentrations depend on both, the concentration gradients and In Figures 49 we show the pore density distribution obtained
the electric potential. for the three electrode orientations. There is an evident asym-
Parameter Value
l Myocyte length 100 m
r Myocyte radius 11 m
d Cell membrane thickness 10 nm
i Relative permittivity of the 74,3
e Relative permittivity of the 74,3
extracellular medium
m Relative permittivity of the 2260
cell membrane
i Conductivity of the cyto- 0,612 S/m
e Conductivity of the extra- 0,643 S/m
cellular medium
m Conductivity of the mem- 1,081010 S/m
brane (before the formation
of the new pores)
Creation rate coefficient 1109 1/(m2 s)
N0 Equilibrium pore density 1,5109 1/m2 Figure 1. ITV around the cross-sectional area of the myocyte
Vep Characteristic volt- 170 mV for the 90 degrees electrode orientation.
age of electroporation
( 0, 25Vc )
q Pore creation rate 2,46
rp Pore radius 0,8 nm
n Relative length of the pore 0,15
w0 Energy barrier inside the 2,65
T0 Absolute temperature 298 K
F Faraday constant 9,65104 C/mol
R Ideal gas constant 8,314 J/(Kmol)
DN a+ Diffusion coefficient of 1,33105 cm2 /s
DK + Diffusion coefficient of 1,96105 cm2 /s
DCa2+ Diffusion coefficient of cal- 0,79105 cm2 /s
DCl Diffusion coefficient of 2,04105 cm2 /s
CiN a+ Intracellular sodium con- 12,5 mM Figure 2. ITV around the longitudinal-sectional area of the my-
centration ocyte for the 45 degrees electrode orientation.
CiK + Intracellular potassium 136,9 mM
CiCa2+ Intracellular calcium con- 7,9105 mM
CiCl intracellular chlorine con- 1,5 mM
CeN a+ Extracellular sodium con- 140 mM
CeK + Extracellular potassium 4.5 mM
CeCa2+ Extracellular calcium con- 1,8 mM
CeCl Extracellular chlorine con- 105 mM
zN a+ Valence of sodium ions 1
zK + Valence of potassium ions 1
zCa2+ Valence of calcium ions 2
zCl Valence of chlorine ions -1
V applied electric potential 20 V
Figure 3. ITV around the longitudinal-sectional area of the my-
Table 1. Values of the parameters used in the model ocyte for the 0 degrees electrode orientation.
Figure 4. 3D pore density distribution for the 90 degrees elec- Figure 6. 3D pore density distribution for the 45 degrees elec-
trode orientation. trode orientation.

Figure 7. Pore density around the longitudinal-sectional area

Figure 5. Pore density around the cross-sectional area of the of the myocyte for the 45 degrees electrode orientation.
myocyte for the 90 degrees electrode orientation.

metry in the pore density, with larger values present at the hy-
perpolarized regions of the membrane, in accordance with pre-
viously reported experimental results [5]. This asymmetry can
be explained taking into account the zero net current flow con-
dition for a source free system, such as an isolated cell. After
the electroporation current iep has been stablished it is several
orders of magnitude larger than the ionic currents, and thus the
total current through the membrane is approximately equal to
the current that flows through the pores created by the external
electric field times the pore density on the whole membrane
(J Iep = N iep ). In function of the concentration gradients
direction, the electric field and the sign of the ions charge, the
currents iep will be larger at one end of the cell than at the other.
To keep the equilibrium in J this must be compensated with a Figure 8. 3D pore density distribution for the 0 degrees elec-
smaller value of N at the end of the cell in which iep is larger. trode orientation.
Figure 9. Pore density around the longitudinal-sectional area Figure 11. Calcium current around the cross-sectional area of
of the myocyte for the 0 degrees electrode orientation. the myocyte for the 90 degrees electrode orientation.

4.3 Electroporation current

As deduced from the previous discussion the total electropo-
ration current has the same magnitude and different signs at
opposite ends of the myocyte, in other words, except for its
sign the electroporation current is symmetric around the mem-
brane. In Figure 10 we present the total electroporation current
measured around the cross-sectional area of the myocyte for
the electrode orientation in which the electric field direction
is perpendicular to the myocyte axis. In Figures 1113 the
electroporation current of Figure 10 is separated in several of
its ionic components: calcium, potassium and sodium currents.

Figure 12. Potassium current around the cross-sectional area of

the myocyte for the 90 degrees electrode orientation.

Figure 10. Total electroporation current around the cross-

sectional area of the myocyte for the 90 degrees electrode ori-

Despite the fact that the calcium current has a smaller mag-
nitude than the sodium and potassium currents, its increase
with respect to its initial value after the first instants of the ap- Figure 13. Sodium current around the cross-sectional area of
plication of the external electric field is about two orders of the myocyte for the 90 degrees electrode orientation.
magnitude larger than the analogue increases of the sodium transmembrane potential responses to high-intensity elec-
and potassium currents. This finding opens the door to future trical shocks, American Journal of Physiology - Heart and
models that take into account the active electrical behavior of Circulatory Physiology, Vol. 286, pp. H412-H418, (2004).
myocytes and the central role of calcium in it.
[8] K. A DeBruin and W. Krassowska. Modeling electropo-
ration in a single cell. I. Effects of field strength and rest
5 Conclusions potential. Biophysical journal, Vol. 77, pp. 12131224,
We implemented a 3D mathematical model of cardiac myocyte (1999).
electroporation based on the solution of a set of coupled differ-
[9] K. A DeBruin and W. Krassowska. Modeling electropo-
ential equations through the finite element method, disregard-
ration in a single cell. II. Effects of ionic concentrations.
ing its active electric characteristics and assuming its biophys-
Biophysical journal, Vol. 77, pp. 12251233, (1999).
ical properties as isotropic. We studied the induced transmem-
brane voltage, the pore density and the electroporation current [10] A. C. Polycarpou. Introduction to the Finite Element
for three parallel-plate electrode orientations. The most noto- Method in Electromagnetics. Morgan & Claypool. U.S.A.
rious result obtained from the model was an asymmetric pore (2006).
density distribution on the cell membrane, with larger values
present at the hyperpolarized end of the myocyte. [11] T. OHara ,L. Virag, A. Varro and Y. Rudy, Simulation
of the Undiseased Human Cardiac Ventricular Action Po-
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Colombian Administrative Department of Science, Technology [12] A. Kramlich, J. Bohnert and O. Dssel. Transmem-
and Innovation (Colciencias) through a research grant to Ivan brane Voltages Caused by Magnetic Fields Numerical
De La Pava as part of the program Jovenes Investigadores e Studof Schematic Cell Models, part of: Magnetic Par-
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