Searching for the Perfect Wave: The Effect of Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields on Cells
Gherardini L, Ciuti G, Tognarelli S, Cinti C. Searching for the Perfect Wave: The Effect of Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields on Cells. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2014; 15(4):5366-5387.
There is a growing concern in the population about the effects that environmental exposure to any source of “uncontrolled” radiation may have on public health. Anxiety arises from the controversial knowledge about the effect of electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure to cells and organisms but most of all concerning the possible causal relation to human diseases. Here we reviewed those in vitro and in vivo and epidemiological works that gave a new insight about the effect of radio frequency (RF) exposure, relating to intracellular molecular pathways that lead to biological and functional outcomes. It appears that a thorough application of standardized protocols is the key to reliable data acquisition and interpretation that could contribute a clearer picture for scientists and lay public. Moreover, specific tuning of experimental and clinical RF exposure might lead to beneficial health effects.
The Effects of RF Exposure on HumansThe International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) at the WHO evaluated the carcinogenic risk for humans from prolonged exposure to RF, naming the risk as “possible” (2B) [90,91]. However, recent evidence of long-term exposure studies on tumors might suggest endorsing a stricter set of criteria to raise the risk up to group 1 according to the IARC classification. The USA Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) regulations for conducting environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) recently issued a final document for regulating safety, economical and social aspects of the RF usage and the compliance with its limits, including SAR.
To date, RF exposure remains a crucial issue among the general public as numerous subjects are reporting that they suffer from hypersensitivity to exposure [92,93]. Scientists are trying to answer all calls for specific categories’ interaction with environmental or professional RF exposure. Geographical location [90,94,95], occupational groups [96,97], sections of the population  such as children and youngsters [99,100] or pregnant women  are only several elements that have been investigated in a cohort of voluntary subjects participating in research or clinical studies, or considered in informative epidemiologic meta-analysis  surveys. Moreover, the impacts of diagnostic devices such as magnetic resonance scanners that emit RF were analyzed . Given the delicate matter, it is not infrequent to find comments and rebuttals between different research groups. The vast diversity of protocols and the different quest of researchers together with the ever-increasing alert on these issues make the systematic review of all of the new findings virtually unfeasible. However, among recent studies, those on voluntary cohorts are perhaps the most interesting. We selected a few relevant examples on the investigation of how RF might impinge on everyday life of selected segments of the populations. In particular, a study that investigated mobile phone use in youngsters is quite alarming. Alsanosi  found that one hour of continuous use of the mobile phone immediately caused hearing dysfunction.
General physiological state is also under investigation. For example, Parazzini et al.  show that repeated exposure to GSM cell phone 900 MHz does not interfere with non-linear dynamics of heart-rate variations in healthy volunteers.
Regarding brain stimulation, many experiments were carried out to establish interference of RF and EEG in relation to cognitive functions  as well as with sleep [107,108]. Recently, a group of Japanese youngsters underwent a test to evaluate the effect on EEG of mobile phone emission for three hours prior to sleep. Both subjective (headache, dizziness) or objective evaluation parameters (EEG spectra) did not differ in the placebo-exposed group .
ConclusionsIt is virtually impossible to account for all of the potential situations in which we encounter casual or expected EMF exposure in our daily life. Moreover, although regulated by physical and mathematic laws, it is quite tricky to describe the variable interactions between RF and biological systems.
One can envisage that EMF “speaks” to each organism and each cell with a different language. The answer to that call can potentially induce protein modification, ion exchanges and nucleic acid conformational changes that might cause positive, adaptive or destructive effects and the modulation of EMF can determine the benefit or the severity of the outcomes. Numerous works indicated that tuning the use of pulsating low and extremely high frequency (EMF) trains of stimulation might be used in cancer treatment  as well as in regenerative medicine [119,120] where cells can be induced to differentiate with minimal manipulation and without pharmacological treatment or gene modification . One of the most exciting findings is that using the ion cyclotron resonance of different elements, i.e., calcium (7 Hz 9.2 micro Tesla), it is possible to induce neuronal differentiation, reducing the carcinogenic phenotype . We foresee the possibility that this tuning can be achieved also with RF in the range of 900 MHz, as some positive reposts on memory enhancement would suggest.
It is therefore important that at least in research, the standardization of protocols, reproducibility of results and unbiased interpretation take place. We attempted an overview of the most recent advances in understanding the nature and the possible functional impact of the effects induced by RF exposure on living beings. We discussed the molecular path finding of the in vitro investigation as well as the functional complexity of in vivo experimental designs. The overwhelming amount of the sometimes contradictory incoming data about potential damage in humans has been briefly considered here as regulatory agency guidelines continuously monitor and regulate the issue.