Ultrastructural changes in axons following exposure to pulsed radiofrequency fields

Pain Pract. 2009 Nov-Dec;9(6):407-17. doi: 10.1111/j.1533-2500.2009.00317.x. Epub 2009 Sep 15.


Pulsed radiofrequency (PRF) fields applied by an electrode to neural structures, such as the peripheral sensory nociceptor axons and dorsal root ganglion, are clinically effective in reducing pain and other neuropathic syndromes. However, a full understanding of the underlying mechanisms by which this occurs has not yet been clarified. In this study, PRF is applied to the afferent axons of the sciatic nerves of rats. A standard radiofrequency (RF) electrode and RF generator is used to apply the RF signal output to the sciatic nerve using standard PRF parameters that have been successfully used in clinical practice. The ultrastructure of the treated axons is observed after 10 days by electron microscopy. A control, sham application is simultaneously applied to the contralateral sciatic nerve to provide a statistical differential comparison. It is found that the internal ultrastructural components of the axons show microscopic damage after PRF exposure, including: abnormal membranes and morphology of mitochondria, and disruption and disorganization of microfilaments and microtubules. The damage appears to be more pronounced for C-fibers than for A-delta and A-beta fibers. The results are discussed in terms of internal electric field strengths and thermodynamic parameters.

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / radiation effects
  • Actin Cytoskeleton / ultrastructure
  • Animals
  • Axons / radiation effects
  • Axons / ultrastructure*
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission / methods
  • Microtubules / radiation effects
  • Microtubules / ultrastructure
  • Mitochondria / radiation effects
  • Nerve Fibers / radiation effects
  • Nerve Fibers / ultrastructure
  • Radio Waves*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Sciatic Nerve / cytology*
  • Sciatic Nerve / radiation effects*