Date of Award


Degree Type


Embargo Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biomedical and Chemical Engineering


Jeremy L. Gilbert


apoptosis, CoCrMo, live-cell imaging, polarized metal, reduction electrochemistry

Subject Categories

Biomedical Engineering and Bioengineering


Electrochemical voltage shifts in metallic biomedical implants occur in-vivo due to a number of processes including mechanically assisted corrosion. Surface potential of biomedical implants and excursions from resting open circuit potential (OCP), which is the voltage they attain while in contact with an electrolyte, can significantly change the interfacial properties of the metallic surfaces and alter the behavior of the surrounding cells, compromising the biocompatibility of metallic implants. Voltages can also be controlled to modulate cell function and fate. To date, the details of the physico-chemical phenomena and the role of different biomaterial parameters involved in the interaction between cells and metallic surfaces under cathodic bias have not been fully elucidated.

In this work, changes in the interfacial properties of a CoCrMo biomedical alloy (ASTM F-1537) in phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) (pH 7.4) at different voltages was studied. Step polarization impedance spectroscopy technique was used to apply 50 mV voltage steps to samples, and the time-based current transients were recorded. A new equation was derived based on capacitive discharge through a Tafel element and generalized to deal with non-ideal impedance behavior. The new function compared to the KWW-Randles function, better matched the time-transient response. The results also showed a voltage dependent oxide resistance and capacitance behavior. Additionally, the in-vitro effect of static voltages on the behavior of MC3T3-E1 pre-osteoblasts cultured on CoCrMo alloy (ASTM-1537) was studied to determine the range of cell viability and mode of cell death beyond the viable range. Cell viability and morphology, changes in actin cytoskeleton, adhesion complexes and nucleus, and mode of cell death (necrosis, or intrinsic or extrinsic apoptosis) were characterized at different voltages ranging from -1000 to +500 mV (Ag/AgCl). Moreover, electrochemical currents and metal ion concentrations at each voltage were measured and related to the observed responses. Results show that cathodic and anodic voltages outside the voltage viability range (-400 < V < +500) lead to primarily intrinsic apoptotic and necrotic cell death, respectively. Cell death is associated with cathodic current densities of 0.1 uAcm-2 and anodic current densities of 10 uAcm-2. Significant increase in metallic ions (Co, Cr, Ni, Mo) was seen at +500 mV, and -1000 mV (Cr only) compared to open circuit potential. The number and total projected area of adhesion complexes was also lower on the polarized alloy (p < 0.05). These results show that reduction reactions on CoCrMo alloys leads to apoptosis of cells on the surface and may be a relevant mode of cell death for metallic implants in-vivo.

On the other hand, we studied how surface oxide thickness of Ti affects its voltage viability range and cellular response and whether anodic oxidation can serve as a means to extend this range. Cellular behavior (cell viability, cytoskeletal organization, and cellular adhesion) on bare and anodized Ti samples, potentiostatically held at voltages at the cathodic edge of the viability range, were assessed. Surfaces were characterized using contact angle (CA) measurement technique and atomic force microscopy (AFM), and the observed cellular response was related to the changes in the electrochemical properties (electrochemical currents, open circuit potential, and impedance spectra) of the samples. Results show that anodization at a low voltage (9 V) in phosphate buffer saline (PBS) generates a compact surface oxide with comparable surface roughness and energy to the starting native oxide on the bare surface. The anodized surface extends the viability range at 24 hours by about a 100 mV in the cathodic region, and preserved the cytoskeletal integrity and cell adhesion. Broadening of the viability range corresponds to an increase in impedance of the anodized surface at -400 mV(Ag/AgCl) and the resulting low average currents (below 0.1 uAcm-2) at the interface, which diminish the harmful cathodic reactions.

Finally, cellular dynamics (size, polarity, movement) and temporal changes in the number and total area of focal adhesions in transiently transfected MC3T3-E1 pre-osteoblasts cultured on a CoCrMo alloy polarized at the cathodic and anodic edges of its voltage viability range (-400 and +500 mV(Ag/AgCl) respectively) were studied. Nucleus dynamics (size, circularity, movement) and the release of reactive oxygen species (ROS) was also studied on the polarized metal at -1000, -400, and +500 mV(Ag/AgCl). The results show that at -400 mV(Ag/AgCl) a gradual loss of adhesion occurs over 24 hours while cells shrink in size during this time. At +500 mV, cells become non-viable after 5 hours without showing any significant changes in adhesion behavior right before cell death. Nucleus size of cells at -1000 mV decreased sharply within 15 minutes after electrochemical polarization, which rendered the cells completely non-viable. No significant amount of ROS was released by cells on the polarized CoCrMo at any of these voltages.


Open Access