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PLoS One. 2016 Sep 30;11(9):e0163935. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0163935. eCollection 2016.

1800MHz Microwave Induces p53 and p53-Mediated Caspase-3 Activation Leading to Cell Apoptosis In Vitro.

Xing F1,2, Zhan Q1, He Y2, Cui J2, He S1,3, Wang G2.

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SCNU-ZJU Joint Research Center of Photonics, South China Academy of Advanced Optoelectronics, South China Normal University (SCNU), 510006 Guangzhou, China.
Department of Biology, South University of Science and Technology of China (SUSTC), Shenzhen 518055, China.
Department of Electromagnetic Engineering, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), 10044 Stockholm, Sweden.


Recent studies have reported that exposure of mammalian cells to microwave radiation may have adverse effects such as induction of cell apoptosis. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying microwave induced mammalian cell apoptosis are not fully understood. Here, we report a novel mechanism: exposure to 1800MHz microwave radiation induces p53-dependent cell apoptosis through cytochrome c-mediated caspase-3 activation pathway. We first measured intensity of microwave radiation from several electronic devices with an irradiation detector. Mouse NIH/3T3 and human U-87 MG cells were then used as receivers of 1800MHz electromagnetic radiation (EMR) at a power density of 1209 mW/m2. Following EMR exposure, cells were analyzed for viability, intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, DNA damage, p53 expression, and caspase-3 activity. Our analysis revealed that EMR exposure significantly decreased viability of NIH/3T3 and U-87 MG cells, and increased caspase-3 activity. ROS burst was observed at 6 h and 48 h in NIH/3T3 cells, while at 3 h in U-87 MG cells. Hoechst 33258 staining and in situ TUNEL assay detected that EMR exposure increased DNA damage, which was significantly restrained in the presence of N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC, an antioxidant). Moreover, EMR exposure increased the levels of p53 protein and p53 target gene expression, promoted cytochrome c release from mitochondrion, and increased caspase-3 activity. These events were inhibited by pretreatment with NAC, pifithrin-α (a p53 inhibitor) and caspase inhibitor. Collectively, our findings demonstrate, for the first time, that 1800MHz EMR induces apoptosis-related events such as ROS burst and more oxidative DNA damage, which in turn promote p53-dependent caspase-3 activation through release of cytochrome c from mitochondrion. These findings thus provide new insights into physiological mechanisms underlying microwave-induced cell apoptosis.

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