Natural killer cell activity decreases in workers occupationally exposed to extremely low frequency magnetic fields exceeding 1 microT

Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2009 Oct-Dec;22(4):1059-66. doi: 10.1177/039463200902200422.


In a preliminary study a reduction in natural killer (NK) cell activity in peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) was observed in a group of workers exposed to levels of extremely low frequency-magnetic fields (ELF-MF) exceeding 1 microT. This study was performed to confirm the results. In 121 workers engaged in various occupational activities, individual ELF-MF exposure was monitored for 2 work shifts. Exposure levels were calculated as time-weighted average (TWA). Subjects were classified as Low exposure (TWA < or = 0.2 microT), Medium exposure (TWA 0.21-0.99 microT), or Higher exposure (TWA > or = 1 microT). In higher exposure workers NK activity proved significantly reduced compared to low exposure,(p<0.01). In medium exposure a reduction was also observed, but the difference was not significant. Multivariate analysis also confirmed the relation between exposure and NK activity. It has been suggested that ELF might affect tumour progression by inducing changes in the immune system: due to the role played by NK activity in host defence against cancer, the interference with the NK cell activity observed in this study is in agreement with this hypothesis. Furthermore, an increased risk for some neurodegenerative disorders has been reported in some epidemiological studies in ELF-MF-exposed workers: changes in NK function were also described in these diseases. Our results, showing the effect on NK activity of exposure exceeding 1 microT, suggest a possible mechanism for ELF-MF effects. This could open new horizons regarding the adverse long-term effects of these fields.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic / radiation effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • K562 Cells
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / radiation effects*
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Occupational Health*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Time Factors