Effects of prolonged iron overload and low frequency electromagnetic exposure on spatial learning and memory in the young rat

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2009 Oct;92(3):345-55. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2009.04.002. Epub 2009 Apr 24.


Low-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF) have been suggested to affect the brain via alterations of blood-brain barrier permeability to iron. Because of an immature blood-brain barrier, the young brain may be particularly vulnerable to EMF exposure. It is therefore possible that behavioral and neurotoxic effects resulting from EMF-induced iron excess in the brain would be greater in young adults. The objective of the present study was to investigate the interaction between low-frequency EMF and iron overload in young rats. In Experiment 1, we tested the effects of iron overload on spatial learning and memory. Iron treatment did not affect performance in a reference (Morris water maze) and a working memory task (8-arm radial maze). In contrast, detection of a spatial change in an object exploration task was impaired. These effects correlated with modifications of the serotoninergic metabolism. In Experiment 2, the combination of EMF exposure and iron overload was tested. As in Experiment 1, rats were not impaired in reference and working memory tasks but were mildly impaired in the detection of the spatial change. Overall, the results showed an effect of iron overload on spontaneous spatial memory processes. However, low-frequency EMF exposure did not potentiate the effects of iron overload in young rats.

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Electromagnetic Fields*
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Ferrous Compounds / administration & dosage
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Iron Compounds / administration & dosage
  • Iron Overload / physiopathology*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Time Factors


  • Ferrous Compounds
  • Iron Compounds
  • ferrous sulfate
  • Iron