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Radiat Res. 2012 Sep;178(3):138-49. Epub 2012 Aug 1.

Gene expression profiles in white blood cells of volunteers exposed to a 50 Hz electromagnetic field.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, Sanger Building, Cambridge, CB2 1GA, United Kingdom.


Consistent and independently replicated laboratory evidence to support a causative relationship between environmental exposure to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs) at power line frequencies and the associated increase in risk of childhood leukemia has not been obtained. In particular, although gene expression responses have been reported in a wide variety of cells, none has emerged as robust, widely replicated effects. DNA microarrays facilitate comprehensive searches for changes in gene expression without a requirement to select candidate responsive genes. To determine if gene expression changes occur in white blood cells of volunteers exposed to an ELF-EMF, each of 17 pairs of male volunteers age 20-30 was subjected either to a 50 Hz EMF exposure of 62.0 ± 7.1 μT for 2 h or to a sham exposure (0.21 ± 0.05 μT) at the same time (11:00 a.m. to 13:00 p.m.). The alternative regime for each volunteer was repeated on the following day and the two-day sequence was repeated 6 days later, with the exception that a null exposure (0.085 ± 0.01 μT) replaced the sham exposure. Five blood samples (10 ml) were collected at 2 h intervals from 9:00 to 17:00 with five additional samples during the exposure and sham or null exposure periods on each study day. RNA samples were pooled for the same time on each study day for the group of 17 volunteers that were subjected to the ELF-EMF exposure/sham or null exposure sequence and were analyzed on Illumina microarrays. Time courses for 16 mammalian genes previously reported to be responsive to ELF-EMF exposure, including immediate early genes, stress response, cell proliferation and apoptotic genes were examined in detail. No genes or gene sets showed consistent response profiles to repeated ELF-EMF exposures. A stress response was detected as a transient increase in plasma cortisol at the onset of either exposure or sham exposure on the first study day. The cortisol response diminished progressively on subsequent exposures or sham exposures, and was attributable to mild stress associated with the experimental protocol.

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