Electromagnetic fields stress living cells.
Department of Physiology, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.
Electromagnetic fields (EMF), in both ELF (extremely low frequency) and radio frequency (RF) ranges, activate the cellular stress response, a protective mechanism that induces the expression of stress response genes, e.g., HSP70, and increased levels of stress proteins, e.g., hsp70. The 20 different stress protein families are evolutionarily conserved and act as ‘chaperones’ in the cell when they ‘help’ repair and refold damaged proteins and transport them across cell membranes. Induction of the stress response involves activation of DNA, and despite the large difference in energy between ELF and RF, the same cellular pathways respond in both frequency ranges. Specific DNA sequences on the promoter of the HSP70 stress gene are responsive to EMF, and studies with model biochemical systems suggest that EMF could interact directly with electrons in DNA. While low energy EMF interacts with DNA to induce the stress response, increasing EMF energy in the RF range can lead to breaks in DNA strands. It is clear that in order to protect living cells, EMF safety limits must be changed from the current thermal standard, based on energy, to one based on biological responses that occur long before the threshold for thermal changes.