The objective of this study was to investigate whether exposure of human monocytes to a pulsed ultra-wideband electromagnetic field (EMF) of 1 kV/cm average peak power triggers a signaling pathway responsible for the transcriptional regulation of NFKB (NF-kappaB)-dependent gene expression. Human Mono Mac 6 (MM6) cells were exposed intermittently to EMF pulses for a total of 90 min. The pulse width was 0.79+/-0.01 ns and the pulse repetition rate was 250 pps. The temperature of the medium was maintained at 37 degrees C in both sham- and EMF-exposed flasks. Total NFKB DNA-binding activity was measured in the nuclear extracts by the electrophoretic mobility shift assay. Cells exposed to the EMFs and incubated for 24 h postexposure showed a 3.5+/-0.2-fold increase in the NFKB DNA-binding activity. Since activation of NFKB was observed, the possibility of kappaB-dependent gene expression in response to exposure to the EMFs was investigated using NFKB signal-specific gene arrays. The results revealed no difference in the NFKB-dependent gene expression profiles at 8 or 24 h postexposure, indicating that activated NFKB does not lead to the differential expression of kappaB-dependent target genes. To determine whether the absence of the kappaB-dependent gene expression was due to compromised transcriptional regulation of NFKB, the functional activity of NFKB was examined in cells transiently transfected with Mercury Pathway constructs containing 4x NFKB binding sites associated either with the luciferase reporter system or a control vector. Pulsed EMF exposure did not induce NFKB-driven luciferase activity in these cells, indicating that the activation of NFKB at 24 h after the 1 kV/cm EMF exposure is functionally inactive. From these results, it is clear that the EMF-induced NFKB activation is only a transient response, with minimal or no downstream effect.