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Cell Physiol Biochem. 2017;43(4):1533-1546. doi: 10.1159/000481977. Epub 2017 Oct 16.

Activation of Signaling Cascades by Weak Extremely Low Frequency Electromagnetic Fields.

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Department of Biological Regulation, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.
Foundation for Research on Information Technologies in Society (IT'IS), Zurich, Switzerland.
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.



Results from recent studies suggest that extremely low frequency magnetic fields (ELF-MF) interfere with intracellular signaling pathways related to proliferative control. The mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), central signaling components that regulate essentially all stimulated cellular processes, include the extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1/2 (ERK1/2) that are extremely sensitive to extracellular cues. Anti-phospho-ERK antibodies serve as a readout for ERK1/2 activation and are able to detect minute changes in ERK stimulation. The objective of this study was to explore whether activation of ERK1/2 and other signaling cascades can be used as a readout for responses of a variety of cell types, both transformed and non-transformed, to ELF-MF.


We applied ELF-MF at various field strengths and time periods to eight different cell types with an exposure system housed in a tissue culture incubator and followed the phosphorylation of MAPKs and Akt by western blotting.


We found that the phosphorylation of ERK1/2 is increased in response to ELF-MF. However, the phosphorylation of ERK1/2 is likely too low to induce ELF-MF-dependent proliferation or oncogenic transformation. The p38 MAPK was very slightly phosphorylated, but JNK or Akt were not. The effect on ERK1/2 was detected for exposures to ELF-MF strengths as low as 0.15 µT and was maximal at ∼10 µT. We also show that ERK1/2 phosphorylation is blocked by the flavoprotein inhibitor diphenyleneiodonium, indicating that the response to ELF-MF may be exerted via NADP oxidase similar to the phosphorylation of ERK1/2 in response to microwave radiation.


Our results further indicate that cells are responsive to ELF-MF at field strengths much lower than previously suspected and that the effect may be mediated by NADP oxidase. However, the small increase in ERK1/2 phosphorylation is probably insufficient to affect proliferation and oncogenic transformation. Therefore, the results cannot be regarded as proof of the involvement of ELF-MF in cancer in general or childhood leukemia in particular.


ELF-MF; ERK; Extremely low frequency magnetic fields; MAPK; Mitogen-activated protein kinases; NADH oxidase

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