Physiological strength electric fields modulate human T cell activation and polarisation

Christina E. Arnold, Ann Rajnicek, Joseph I Hoare, Swechha M Pokharel, Colin McCaig, Robert N Barker, Heather M. Wilson* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
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The factors and signals driving T cell activation and polarisation during immune responses have been studied mainly at the level of cells and chemical mediators. Here we describe a physical driver of these processes in the form of physiological-strength electric fields (EFs). EFs are generated at sites where epithelium is disrupted (e.g. wounded skin/bronchial epithelia) and where T cells frequently are present. Using live-cell imaging, we show human primary T cells migrate directionally to the cathode in low strength (50/150 mV/mm) EFs. Strikingly, we show for the first time that EFs significantly downregulate T cell activation following stimulation with antigen-activated APCs or anti-CD3/CD28 antibodies, as demonstrated by decreased IL-2 secretion and proliferation. These EF-induced functional changes were accompanied by a significant dampening of CD4+ T cell polarisation. Expression of critical markers of the Th17 lineage, RORγt and IL-17, and the Th17 polarisation mediator phospho-STAT3 were reduced significantly, while STAT1, ERK and c-Jun phosphorylation were comparatively unaffected suggesting STAT3 modulation by EFs as one mechanism driving effects. Overall, we identify electrical signals as important contributors to the co-ordination and regulation of human T cell functions, paving the way for a new research area into effects of naturally occurring and clinically-applied EFs in conditions where control of T cell activity is paramount.

Original languageEnglish
Article number17604
Number of pages11
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2019




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