Jaffe LF, Vanable JW. Electric fields and wound healing. Clin Dermatol 1984; 2:34-44.

There are many points of view from which one may consider the healing of wounded skin, several of which are dealt with in earlier chapters. We would like to focus on one aspect of wound healing that has received only scant attention: the possible role of electric fields in the migration of epithelial cells that must occur in order to heal wounded skin. This cell migration is one of the earliest signs of epithelial repair of epidermal wounds, both in mammals and in amphibians.1 One important reason for the lack of attention to electrical aspects of skin healing can be attributed to the paucity of information, useful to an understanding of wound healing, about the mammalian skin’s ability to generate electrical currents. The bulk of the literature on the electrical properties of mammalian skin is concerned with psychophysiology.2 4

There is some information about electrical properties of skin that may be relevant to wound healing. Some years ago, Herlitzka5 confirmed DuBois-Reymond’s 1860 observation6 that about 1 microampere of current leaves small epidermal wounds made in human fingers when the wounds are immersed in saline. Much more recently. Illingworth and Barker7 have found currents with densities ranging from 10 to 30 μA/cm2 leaving the stumps of accidentally amputated children’s fingertips when the stumps are immersed in saline. We, working with Barker, have added to this information8 by studying the current-generating capacity of the glabrous epidermis of the cavy, and, particularly, the gradients of electrical potential that exist in the vicinity of wounds made in such skin. Subsequently, we have begun study of wound healing in a simpler system, larval Xenopus skin. We here will review this information, present some previously unpublished observations, and speculate on the possible relevance of this information to wound healing.