I have come across use of the terms cis and trans electrodes in the context of nanopores and driving charged biomolecules through a pore using an electric field [1]:

Drawing of the cis negative electrode and trans positive electrode chambers
FIG. 1. Drawing of the cis negative electrode and trans positive electrode chambers. The arrows show the direction of electric field lines. The pore diameter $d$ and length $l$ and the capture radius $r$ are also shown.

I wondered what the origin of the term is.

I know about cis and trans isomers, but I have not come across the term before in terms of electrodes. Is there a simple explanation?

I can just assume that cis/trans are just another terms for cathode and anode, but I think I am missing something. If the cis electrode is the cathode and the trans electrode is the anode, then why not just call them that? Is there any additional meaning?


  1. Grosberg, A. Y.; Rabin, Y. DNA Capture into a Nanopore: Interplay of Diffusion and Electrohydrodynamics. The Journal of Chemical Physics 2010, 133 (16), 165102. DOI: 10.1063/1.3495481.

1 Answer 1


Sometimes authors use buzz words in their paper in order to make their work novel or fancier than it should be. However, such newly coined terms never get popular and vanish with the author into oblivion. No, cis and trans can never mean cathode or anode. It refers to the chambers in which the electrode is place.

I looked up the Oxford's Latin Dictionary:

cis has three meanings

  1. (in time) before, within
  2. (in space) on the near side of, on this side of
  3. (expressing motion) to the near side of


  1. to the other side of

Now look at the cell configuration in your link. The very first lines of the paper you linked says

DNA translocation through protein or synthetic solid state nanopores is a two stage process that involves capture of a DNA coil by the pore including its delivery to the pore and insertion of one of its ends into it, followed by its motion through the nanochannel. The process may be driven by voltage $\Delta$V typically a few hundred millivolts applied between two macroscopic electrodes positioned on both sides of the partition separating the cis where DNA is initially placed and the trans to where it translocates through the pore chambers, as shown schematically in Fig. 1


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