Nerve branching is controlled by intrinsic and extrinsic cues, one of which may be a small applied electric field. Lateral processes were induced by passing current through a micropipette placed at 90 degrees to the shaft of a developing nerve. The appearance of processes was a polarised event with a large majority arising from the cathodal facing side of nerves. Whilst an electric field alone may promote branching, the presence of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) or the ganglioside GM1 enhanced branching of developing nerves. It is likely that an applied electric field promotes microtubule disassembly locally along the neurite shaft and that this can lead to a polarised rearrangement of the neuronal cyto-skeleton. It is suggested that the use of an applied electric field in conjunction with these pharmacological agents might enhance nerve regeneration in vivo.

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