Assessment of Genotoxicity in Human Cells Exposed to Modulated Electromagnetic Fields of Wireless Communication Devices

Genes202011(4), 347; (registering DOI)Received: 28 February 2020 / Revised: 20 March 2020 / Accepted: 23 March 2020 / Published: 25 March 2020(This article belongs to the Special Issue Environmentally Induced Genomic Instability)


Modulated electromagnetic fields (wEMFs), as generated by modern communication technologies, have raised concerns about adverse health effects. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies them as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2B), yet, the underlying molecular mechanisms initiating and promoting tumorigenesis remain elusive. Here, we comprehensively assess the impact of technologically relevant wEMF modulations on the genome integrity of cultured human cells, investigating cell type-specificities as well as time- and dose-dependencies. Classical and advanced methodologies of genetic toxicology and DNA repair were applied, and key experiments were performed in two separate laboratories. Overall, we found no conclusive evidence for an induction of DNA damage nor for alterations of the DNA repair capacity in cells exposed to several wEMF modulations (i.e., GSM, UMTS, WiFi, and RFID). Previously reported observations of increased DNA damage after exposure of cells to GSM-modulated signals could not be reproduced. Experimental variables, presumably underlying the discrepant observations, were investigated and are discussed. On the basis of our data, we conclude that the possible carcinogenicity of wEMF modulations cannot be explained by an effect on genome integrity through direct DNA damage. However, we cannot exclude non-genotoxic, indirect, or secondary effects of wEMF exposure that may promote tumorigenesis in other ways.

5. Conclusions

We investigated the genotoxic potential of modulated RF-EMF as used in wireless technology (UMTS, GSM, WiFi, and RFID) on cultured human cells. Classical and advanced genotoxicity testing and DNA repair assessment produced no conclusive evidence for a disturbance of DNA integrity or changes in the DNA repair capacity, following wEMF exposure. These overall negative results are in contrast to some previously reported positive findings. Investigating the underlying reasons for this discrepancy, we identified cell culture conditions and the CA methodology as likely relevant variables. In some experiments with UMTS exposure, we noticed small tendencies for wEMF exposure-associated changes in DNA damage levels and repair dynamics. In the absence of evidence for a direct DNA-damaging potential of wEMF, we interpret these to possibly be caused by an unspecific wEMF-induced cellular stress response. The nature of such an interaction between wEMF and cellular physiology, however, remains unclear and needs to be further investigated.

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