Background: In recent times there has been some controversy over the impact of electromagnetic radiation on human health. The significance of mobile phone radiation on male reproduction is a key element of this debate since several studies have suggested a relationship between mobile phone use and semen quality. The potential mechanisms involved have not been established, however, human spermatozoa are known to be particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress by virtue of the abundant availability of substrates for free radical attack and the lack of cytoplasmic space to accommodate antioxidant enzymes. Moreover, the induction of oxidative stress in these cells not only perturbs their capacity for fertilization but also contributes to sperm DNA damage. The latter has, in turn, been linked with poor fertility, an increased incidence of miscarriage and morbidity in the offspring, including childhood cancer. In light of these associations, we have analyzed the influence of RF-EMR on the cell biology of human spermatozoa in vitro.
Principal findings: Purified human spermatozoa were exposed to radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR) tuned to 1.8 GHz and covering a range of specific absorption rates (SAR) from 0.4 W/kg to 27.5 W/kg. In step with increasing SAR, motility and vitality were significantly reduced after RF-EMR exposure, while the mitochondrial generation of reactive oxygen species and DNA fragmentation were significantly elevated (P<0.001). Furthermore, we also observed highly significant relationships between SAR, the oxidative DNA damage bio-marker, 8-OH-dG, and DNA fragmentation after RF-EMR exposure.
Conclusions: RF-EMR in both the power density and frequency range of mobile phones enhances mitochondrial reactive oxygen species generation by human spermatozoa, decreasing the motility and vitality of these cells while stimulating DNA base adduct formation and, ultimately DNA fragmentation. These findings have clear implications for the safety of extensive mobile phone use by males of reproductive age, potentially affecting both their fertility and the health and wellbeing of their offspring.