- 1Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics, Old Dominion University, 4211 Monarch Way, Norfolk, VA, 23508, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Non-thermal probing and stimulation with subnanosecond electric pulses and terahertz electromagnetic radiation may lead to new, minimally invasive diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and to methods for remote monitoring and analysis of biological systems, including plants, animals, and humans. To effectively engineer these still-emerging tools, we need an understanding of the biophysical mechanisms underlying the responses that have been reported to these novel stimuli. We show here that subnanosecond (≤500 ps) electric pulses induce action potentials in neurons and cause calcium transients in neuroblastoma-glioma hybrid cells, and we report complementary molecular dynamics simulations of phospholipid bilayers in electric fields in which membrane permeabilization occurs in less than 1 ns. Water dipoles in the interior of these model membranes respond in less than 1 ps to permeabilizing electric potentials by aligning in the direction of the field, and they re-orient at terahertz frequencies to field reversals. The mechanism for subnanosecond lipid electropore formation is similar to that observed on longer time scales-energy-minimizing intrusions of interfacial water into the membrane interior and subsequent reorganization of the bilayer into hydrophilic, conductive structures.