Background: Effects of man-made electromagnetic fields (EMF) on living organisms potentially include transient and permanent changes in cell behaviour, physiology and morphology. At present, these EMF-induced effects are poorly defined, yet their understanding may provide important insights into consequences of uncontrolled (e.g., environmental) as well as intentional (e.g., therapeutic or diagnostic) exposure of biota to EMFs. In this work, for the first time, we study mechanisms by which a high frequency (18 GHz) EMF radiation affects the physiology of membrane transport in pheochromocytoma PC 12, a convenient model system for neuro-toxicological and membrane transport studies.
Methods and results: Suspensions of the PC 12 cells were subjected to three consecutive cycles of 30s EMF treatment with a specific absorption rate (SAR) of 1.17 kW kg-1, with cells cooled between exposures to reduce bulk dielectric heating. The EMF exposure resulted in a transient increase in membrane permeability for 9 min in up to 90 % of the treated cells, as demonstrated by rapid internalisation of silica nanospheres (diameter d ≈ 23.5 nm) and their clusters (d ≈ 63 nm). In contrast, the PC 12 cells that received an equivalent bulk heat treatment behaved similar to the untreated controls, showing lack to minimal nanosphere uptake of approximately 1-2 %. Morphology and growth of the EMF treated cells were not altered, indicating that the PC 12 cells were able to remain viable after the EMF exposure. The metabolic activity of EMF treated PC 12 cells was similar to that of the heat treated and control samples, with no difference in the total protein concentration and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) release between these groups.
Conclusion: These results provide new insights into the mechanisms of EMF-induced biological activity in mammalian cells, suggesting a possible use of EMFs to facilitate efficient transport of biomolecules, dyes and tracers, and genetic material across cell membrane in drug delivery and gene therapy, where permanent permeabilisation or cell death is undesirable.