Gerner C, Haudek V, Schandl U, Bayer E, Gundacker N, Hutter HP, Mosgoeller W. Increased protein synthesis by cells exposed to a 1,800-MHz radio-frequency mobile phone electromagnetic field, detected by proteome profiling. Int Arch Occup Environ Health. Ahead of print. Feb 10, 2010.
Whether or not low intensity radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure (RF-EMF) associated with the use of mobile phones can have direct effects on cells has been a matter of debate. Early epidemiological studies on mobile phone use did not reveal an associated health risk, however; subsequent studies have demonstrated some evidence for enhanced cancer risk.
The objective of this study was to investigate whether or not low intensity RF-EMF associated with mobile phone use can affect human cells.
A sensitive proteome analysis method was used to study changes in protein synthesis in four different types of cultured human cells; (1) Jurkat T cells, (2) fibroblasts, (3) quiescent (metabolically inactive) primary human white blood cells (WBC) and (4) activated WBC were exposed to 2 W/kg specific absorption rate (SAR) in medium containing 35S-methionine/cysteine for 8 hours. Modulations closely reflecting the technical specifications of GSM-1800 were used. Cells were either exposed or mock-exposed to RF-EMF under blinded conditions, followed by protein extraction and analyses. Autoradiography of 2D gel spots was used to measure the increased synthesis of individual proteins.
Short-term RF-EMF did not significantly alter the proteome however; an 8 hour exposure caused a significant increase in protein synthesis in Jurkat T-cells (93 + 28%) and human fibroblasts (128 + 22%), but to a lesser extent in activated primary human mononuclear cells (43 + 13%). Quiescent (metabolically inactive) mononuclear cells, did not detectably respond to RF-EMF. RF exposure induced a temperature increase of less than 0.15°C suggesting that the observed cellular response is an “athermal” effect of RF-EMF.
Interpretation and Limitations
The rate of protein synthesis in proliferating cells is increased by long-term RF-EMF, but no effect is detectable in quiescent WBC treated in the same manner. Inflammatory activation of WBC induces T-cell proliferation and increases the rate of protein synthesis. This data suggest that proliferating cells with high protein synthesis rates are more sensitive to RF-EMF. One major limitation of this study is that silver staining was used for protein spot integration and this method does not produce reliable quantitative data. Standard deviations obtained with more accurate fluorescence detection methods are usually of the order of 25%. Therefore, subtle alterations may have been missed due to limited sensitivity.
This study does not directly indicate a health risk related to RF-EMF exposure however; the finding that metabolically active and/or proliferating cells are more responsive to RF-EMF implies a higher sensitivity of growing organisms.