Electrical breakdown of cell membranes is interpreted in terms of an electro-mechanical model. It postulates for certain finite membrane areas that the actual membrane thickness depends on the voltage across the membrane and the applied pressure. The magnitude of the membrane compression depends both on the dielectric constant and the compressive, elastic modulus transverse to the membrane plane. The theory predicts the existence of a critical absolute hydrostatic pressure at which the intrinsic membrane potential is sufficiently high to induce "mechanical" breakdown of the membrane. The theoretically expected value for the critical pressure depends on the assumption made both for the pressure-dependence of the elastic modulus of the membrane and of the intrinsic membrane potential. It is shown that the critical pressure is expected at about 65 M Pa. The prediction of a critical pressure could be verified by subjecting human erythrocytes to high pressures (up to 100 M Pa) in a hyperbaric chamber. The net potassium efflux in dependence on pressure was used as an criterion for breakdown. Whereas the potassium net efflux was linearly dependent on pressure up to 60 M Pa, a significant increase in potassium permeability was observed towards higher pressure in agreement with the theory. The increase in the net potassium efflux above 60 M Pa was reversible, as indicated by measurements in which the same erythrocyte sample was subjected to several consecutive pressure pulses. Temperature changes in the erythrocyte suspension during compression and decompression were so small (less than 2 degrees C) that they could not account for the observed effects.

Zimmermann, Pilwat, Péqueux, Gilles, , , , , (1980). Electro-mechanical properties of human erythrocyte membranes: the pressure-dependence of potassium permeability. The Journal of membrane biology, 1980 May;54(2):103-13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7401164