Dielectrophoresis of proteins: experimental data and evolving theory

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21 Scopus citations


The ability to selectively move and trap proteins is core to their effective use as building blocks and for their characterization. Analytical and preparative strategies for proteins have been pursued and modeled for nearly a hundred years, with great advances and success. Core to all of these studies is the separation, isolation, purification, and concentration of pure homogeneous fractions of a specific protein in solution. Processes to accomplish this useful solution include biphasic equilibrium (chromatographies, extractions), mechanical, bulk property, chemical equilibria, and molecular recognition. Ultimately, the goal of all of these is to physically remove all non-like protein molecules—to the finest detail: all atoms in the full three-dimensional structure being identical down the chemical bond and bulk structure chirality. One strategy which has not been effectively pursued is exploiting the higher order subtle electrical properties of the protein-solvent system. The advent of microfluidic systems has enabled the use of very high electric fields and well-defined gradients such that extremely high resolution separations of protein mixtures are possible. These advances and recognition of these capabilities have caused a re-evaluation of the underlying theoretical models and they were found to be inadequate. New theoretical descriptions are being considered which align more closely to the total forces present and the subtlety of differences between similar proteins. These are focused on the interfacial area between the protein and hydrating solvent molecules, as opposed to the macroscale assumptions of homogeneous solutions and particles. This critical review examines all data which has been published that place proteins in electric field gradients which induce collection of those proteins, demonstrating a force greater than dispersive effects or countering forces. Evolving theoretical constructs are presented and discussed, and a general estimate of future capabilities using the higher order effects and the high fields and precise gradients of microfluidic systems is discussed. [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3801-3811
Number of pages11
JournalAnalytical and bioanalytical chemistry
Issue number16
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • Dielectrophoresis
  • Electrostatics
  • Proteins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Biochemistry


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