Effects of electromagnetic fields on neuronal ion channels: a systematic review

Bertagna F, Lewis R, Silva SRP, McFadden J, Jeevaratnam K. Effects of electromagnetic fields on neuronal ion channels: a systematic review. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2021 May 4. doi: 10.1111/nyas.14597. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33945157.


Many aspects of chemistry and biology are mediated by electromagnetic field (EMF) interactions. The central nervous system (CNS) is particularly sensitive to EMF stimuli. Studies have explored the direct effect of different EMFs on the electrical properties of neurons in the last two decades, particularly focusing on the role of voltage-gated ion channels (VGCs). This work aims to systematically review published evidence in the last two decades detailing the effects of EMFs on neuronal ion channels as per the PRISM guidelines. Following a predetermined exclusion and inclusion criteria, 22 papers were included after searches on three online databases. Changes in calcium homeostasis, attributable to the voltage-gated calcium channels, were found to be the most commonly reported result of EMF exposure. EMF effects on the neuronal landscape appear to be diverse and greatly dependent on parameters, such as the field’s frequency, exposure time, and intrinsic properties of the irradiated tissue, such as the expression of VGCs. Here, we systematically clarify how neuronal ion channels are particularly affected and differentially modulated by EMFs at multiple levels, such as gating dynamics, ion conductance, concentration in the membrane, and gene and protein expression. Ion channels represent a major transducer for EMF-related effects on the CNS.



Limitations of this study

This study investigates a complex field, with sometimes conflicting results. The many variables that influence the impact of EMF exposure on neural tissue, such as the physiological state of the cell, its developmental stage, and the various physical characteristics of the many fields involved, complicate the reproducibility and often impede a consistent comparison between different studies. In spite of having highlighted some recurring patterns in the reported results, this review is, therefore, limited by the intrinsic differences of the studies reviewed.



Improved experimental reproducibility will be key to any advances in this field, and the development of new experimental procedures capable of measuring the small but profound way in which certain types of EMF exposure seem to affect our brain might help us to establish whether it is harmful and its therapeutic potential. We hope this work will help in improving our knowledge about the molecular dynamics of neuronal VGCs, which will be key both for any progress in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and for an advancement in the general understanding of the relationship between technological progress and cellular dynamics.


© 2021 The Authors. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of New York Academy of Sciences.

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