An exposure of a cell to an electric field of an adequate strength and duration leads to a transient increase of cell membrane permeability. This phenomenon, termed electroporation or electropermeabilization, allows various otherwise nonpermeant molecules to cross the membrane and enter the cell. Both in vitro and in vivo, reversible electroporation allows for internalization of a wide range of substances, including chemotherapeutics and DNA.
A combination of electroporation and a chemotherapeutic drug (electrochemotherapy) leads to a significant increase of the antitumor effect of the drug. Electroporation also provides a reliable nonviral method of DNA internalization (electrogene transfection), characterized by a stable gene expression in vivo, and thereby representing a safer alternative to viral vectors.