Whole-body exposures to radiofrequency-electromagnetic energy can cause DNA damage in mouse spermatozoa via an oxidative mechanism

Houston, B.J., Nixon, B., McEwan, K.E. et al. Whole-body exposures to radiofrequency-electromagnetic energy can cause DNA damage in mouse spermatozoa via an oxidative mechanism. Sci Rep 9, 17478 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41598-019-53983-9


Artificially generated radiofrequency-electromagnetic energy (RF-EME) is now ubiquitous in our environment owing to the utilization of mobile phone and Wi-Fi based communication devices. While several studies have revealed that RF-EME is capable of eliciting biological stress, particularly in the context of the male reproductive system, the mechanistic basis of this biophysical interaction remains largely unresolved. To extend these studies, here we exposed unrestrained male mice to RF-EME generated via a dedicated waveguide (905 MHz, 2.2 W/kg) for 12 h per day for a period of 1, 3 or 5 weeks. The testes of exposed mice exhibited no evidence of gross histological change or elevated stress, irrespective of the RF-EME exposure regimen. By contrast, 5 weeks of RF-EME exposure adversely impacted the vitality and motility profiles of mature epididymal spermatozoa. These spermatozoa also experienced increased mitochondrial generation of reactive oxygen species after 1 week of exposure, with elevated DNA oxidation and fragmentation across all exposure periods. Notwithstanding these lesions, RF-EME exposure did not impair the fertilization competence of spermatozoa nor their ability to support early embryonic development. This study supports the utility of male germ cells as sensitive tools with which to assess the biological impacts of whole-body RF-EME exposure.


In summary, our evidence supports the hypothesis that sustained whole-body RF-EME is capable of inducing a state of oxidative stress in the male germ line, a cell vulnerable to the effects of ROS. Furthermore, our data further implicate the mitochondria as the target for RF-EME biophysical interaction, with a consequential elevation of mitochondrial ROS generation being linked to reduced motility and elevated oxidative DNA damage and DNA fragmentation in the spermatozoa of exposed males. Whilst these lesions were not sufficient to compromise fertilization competence or early embryo development, it will nonetheless be of interest to investigate the transgenerational influence of whole-body RF-EME in future studies.