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Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2019 Nov 15;44(22):E1290-E1297. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0000000000003136.

Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields Reduce Interleukin-6 Expression in Intervertebral Disc Cells Via Nuclear Factor-κβ and Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase p38 Pathways.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA.
Orthofix Inc., Lewisville, TX.



This is an in vitro study of bovine disc cells exposed to pulsed electromagnetic fields.


The purpose of the present study was to investigate whether pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) effects on the expression of interleukin-6 (IL-6) expression is mediated by two known inflammation regulators, nuclear factor-κB (NF-κβ) and phosphorylated mitogen-activated protein kinase p38 (p38-MAPK) signaling pathways SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA.: Inflammatory cytokines play a dominant role in the pathogenesis of disc degeneration. Increasing evidence showed that PEMF, a noninvasive biophysical stimulation, can have physiologically beneficial effects on inflammation and tissue repair. Our previous research shows that PEMF treatment can reduce IL-6 expression by intervertebral disc cells. However, the underlying mechanisms of PEMF action are yet to be uncovered.


Intervertebral disc nuclear pulposus cells were challenged with interleukin-1α (IL-1α) (for mimicking inflammatory microenvironment) and treated with PEMF simultaneously up to 4 hours. Cells were then collected for NF-κβ and phosphorylated p38-MAPK protein detection with Western blot. Additionally, the RelA (p65) subunit of NF-κβ was examined with immunostaining for assessment of NF-κβ activation.


As expected, Western blot results showed that both NF-κβ and phosphorylated p38 expression were significantly increased by IL-1α treatment. This induction was significantly inhibited to control condition levels by PEMF treatment. Immunostaining demonstrated similar trends, that PEMF treatment reduced the NF-κβ activation induced by IL-1α exposure.


Our data indicate that the previously-reported inhibitory effect of PEMF treatment on disc inflammation is mediated by NF-κβ and phosphorylated p38-MAPK signaling pathways. These results further establish PEMFs anti-inflammatory activity, and may inform potential future clinical uses for management of inflammation associated with disc degeneration.



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