Inflammasome Activation and IL-1β Release Triggered by Nanosecond Pulsed Electric Fields in Murine Innate Immune Cells and Skin

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Journal of Immunology










Although electric field–induced cell membrane permeabilization (electroporation) is used in a wide range of clinical applications from cancer therapy to cardiac ablation, the cellular- and molecular-level details of the processes that determine the success or failure of these treatments are poorly understood. Nanosecond pulsed electric field (nsPEF)–based tumor therapies are known to have an immune component, but whether and how immune cells sense the electroporative damage and respond to it have not been demonstrated. Damage- and pathogen-associated stresses drive inflammation via activation of cytosolic multiprotein platforms known as inflammasomes. The assembly of inflammasome complexes triggers caspase-1–dependent secretion of IL-1β and in many settings a form of cell death called pyroptosis. In this study we tested the hypothesis that the nsPEF damage is sensed intracellularly by the NLRP3 inflammasome. We found that 200-ns PEFs induced aggregation of the inflammasome adaptor protein ASC, activation of caspase-1, and triggered IL-1β release in multiple innate immune cell types (J774A.1 macrophages, bone marrow–derived macrophages, and dendritic cells) and in vivo in mouse skin. Efflux of potassium from the permeabilized cell plasma membrane was partially responsible for nsPEF-induced inflammasome activation. Based on results from experiments using both the NRLP3-specific inhibitor MCC950 and NLRP3 knockout cells, we propose that the damage created by nsPEFs generates a set of stimuli for the inflammasome and that more than one sensor can drive IL-1β release in response to electrical pulse stimulation. This study shows, to our knowledge, for the first time, that PEFs activate the inflammasome, suggesting that this pathway alarms the immune system after treatment.


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"This is an unofficial adaptation of the article that appeared in The Journal of Immunology. The American Association of Immunologists, Inc. has not approved this adaptation."

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Original Publication Citation

Mazzarda, F., Chittams-Miles, A. E., Pittaluga, J., Sözer, E. B., Vernier, P. T., & Muratori, C. (2023). Inflammasome activation and IL-1β release triggered by nanosecond pulsed electric fields in murine innate immune cells and skin. Journal of Immunology, 212(2), 335-345.


0000-0002-0546-3173 (Mazzarda), 0000-0001-8535-9351 (Pittaluga), 0000-0002-6244-3670 (Sozer), 0000-0003-2335-1500 (Vernier), 0000-0002-3359-164X (Muratori)