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Cell Mol Life Sci. 2000 Mar;57(3):514-20.

Resting potential of excitable neuroblastoma cells in weak magnetic fields.

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Department of Orthopedic Surgery, LSU Medical Center in Shreveport, Louisiana 71130-3932, USA.


The mechanism by which static and low-frequency magnetic fields are transduced into biological signals responsible for reported effects on brain electrical activity is not yet ascertained. To test the hypothesis that fields can cause a subthreshold change in the resting membrane potential of excitable cells, we measured changes in transmembrane current under voltage clamp produced in SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells, using the patch-clamp method in the whole-cell configuration. In separate experiments, cells were exposed to static fields of 1, 5, and 75 G, to time-varying fields of 1 and 5 G, and to combined static and time-varying fields tuned for resonance of Na+, K+, Ca2+, or H+. To increase sensitivity, measurements were made on cells connected by gap junctions. For each cell, the effect of the field was evaluated on the basis of 100 trials consisting of a 5-s exposure immediately followed by a 5-s control period. In each experiment, the field had no discernible effect on the transmembrane current in the vicinity of zero current (- 50 mV voltage clamp). The sensitivity of the measuring system was such that we would have detected a current corresponding to a change in membrane potential as small as 38 microV. Consequently, if sensitivity of mammalian cells to magnetic fields is mediated by subthreshold changes in membrane potential, as in sensory transduction of sound, light, and other stimuli, then the ion channels responsible for the putative changes are probably present only in specialized sensory neurons or neuroepithelial cells. A change in transmembrane potential in response to magnetic fields is not a general property of excitable cells in culture.

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