Effects of low frequency electromagnetic fields on expression of lymphocyte subsets and production of cytokines of men and women employed in a museum

Sci Total Environ. 2001 Apr 10;270(1-3):13-20. doi: 10.1016/s0048-9697(00)00796-8.


The objective of this study was to analyse the immune response to electromagnetic fields (ELMFs) in seven men and eight women employed in a museum. The workers were exposed in a room to an ELMFs (range 0.2-3.6 microT and 40-120 V/m) induced by 50 Hz electricity for 20 h a week. Control groups consisted of 47 women and 39 men with a similar percentage of atopic subjects, age (range 30-51 years) and smoking habits of the workers included in the study. Levels of blood lead (Pb) and urinary trans-trans muconic acid, a metabolite of benzene (markers of exposure to traffic and smoking) of the control and exposed groups were similar. Lymphocyte subsets were determined in men and women using conjugated antibodies. Serum interleukin (IL) 4 and interferon gamma and their 'in vitro' production by peripheral mononuclear blood cells (PMBCs) stimulated by phytohemoglutinin (PHA), as well as blastogenesis of PMBCs induced by PHA, were determined in women only. ELMF-exposed women showed a significant reduction in the percentage of B and NK CD3(-)-CD25+ lymphocytes and a slight reduction of CD16(+)-56+ NK lymphocytes. They also showed significantly lower levels of interferon gamma in serum, or produced in the supernatants by PMBCs both spontaneously and stimulated by PHA, while they did not show significant changes in serum and 'in vitro' produced IL-4, or in blastogenesis of PMBCs. Men working in the museum showed, in relation to the controls, a statistically significant reduction in both number and percentage of CD16(+)- CD56+ and CD3(-)-CD25+ lymphocyte subsets. On the whole, this investigation demonstrates a reduction of blood NK lymphocytes and of the production of interferon gamma in workers exposed to low frequency ELMFs. Recent studies have shown that stress and poor lifestyle induce the reduction of blood cytotoxic activities possibly acting on nervous functions. This may suggest that ELMFs reduces blood NK lymphocytes by combined effects on the immune and nervous systems.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin E / blood
  • Interferon-gamma / blood
  • Interleukin-4 / blood
  • Lead / blood
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Museums*
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Sorbic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Sorbic Acid / analysis


  • Cytokines
  • Interleukin-4
  • Lead
  • Immunoglobulin E
  • muconic acid
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Sorbic Acid