There has been increasing interest on the possible harmful effects of prenatal exposure to magnetic fields. To investigate the effect of weak intensity magnetic fields on the prenatal brain, pregnant Wistar rats were continuously exposed to one of four intensities (reference: 5-20 nT; low 30-50 nT; medium 90-580 nT; high 590-1200 nT) of a complex magnetic field sequence designed to interfere with brain development. As adults, rats exposed to the low-intensity (30-50 nT) complex magnetic field displayed impairments in contextual fear learning and showed anomalies in the cytological and morphological development of the hippocampus. In particular, low-intensity exposures resulted in a reduction in overall hippocampal size and promoted subtle dysgenesis of the CA1 and CA3 regions. In contrast, exposure to weaker or stronger intensities of the same complex magnetic field pattern did not interfere with hippocampal development or fear behavior. These findings suggest that prenatal exposure to complex magnetic fields of a narrow intensity window during development can result in subtle but permanent alterations in hippocampal microstructure and function that can have lasting effects on behavior.
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