Is there a relation between extremely low frequency magnetic field exposure, inflammation and neurodegenerative diseases? A review of in vivo and in vitro experimental evidence

Toxicology. 2012 Nov 15;301(1-3):1-12. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2012.06.011. Epub 2012 Jun 29.


Possible health consequences of exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields (ELF-MF) have received considerable interest during the last decades. One area of concern is neurodegenerative diseases (NDD), where epidemiological evidence suggests a correlation between MF exposure and Alzheimer's disease (AD). This review is focussing on animal and in vitro studies employing ELF-MF exposures to see if there is mechanistic support for any causal connection between NDD and MF-exposure. The hypothesis is that ELF-MF exposure can promote inflammation processes and thus influence the progression of NDD. A firm conclusion regarding this hypothesis is difficult to draw based on available studies, since there is a lack of experimental studies that have addressed the question of ELF-MF exposure and NDD. Furthermore, the heterogeneity of the performed studies regarding, e.g., the exposure duration, the flux density, the biological endpoint and the cell type and the time point of investigation is substantial and makes conclusions difficult to draw. Nevertheless, the investigated evidence from in vivo and in vitro studies suggest that short-term MF-exposure causes mild oxidative stress (modest ROS increases and changes in antioxidant levels) and possibly activates anti-inflammatory processes (decrease in pro-inflammatory and increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines). The few studies that specifically have investigated NDDs or NDD relevant end-points show that effects of exposure are either lacking or indicating positive effects on neuronal viability and differentiation. In both immune and NDD relevant studies, experiments with realistic long-term exposures are lacking. Importantly, consequences of a possible long-lasting mild oxidative stress are thus not investigated. In summary, the existing experimental studies are not adequate in answering if there is a causal relationship between MF-exposure and AD, as suggested in epidemiological studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / epidemiology
  • Alzheimer Disease / etiology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / epidemiology
  • Inflammation / etiology*
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Magnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / epidemiology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / etiology*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • Reactive Oxygen Species