Does exposure to a radiofrequency electromagnetic field modify thermal preference in juvenile rats?

PLoS One. 2014 Jun 6;9(6):e99007. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099007. eCollection 2014.


Some studies have shown that people living near a mobile phone base station may report sleep disturbances and discomfort. Using a rat model, we have previously shown that chronic exposure to a low-intensity radiofrequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) was associated with paradoxical sleep (PS) fragmentation and greater vasomotor tone in the tail. Here, we sought to establish whether sleep disturbances might result from the disturbance of thermoregulatory processes by a RF-EMF. We recorded thermal preference and sleep stage distribution in 18 young male Wistar rats. Nine animals were exposed to a low-intensity RF-EMF (900 MHz, 1 V x m(-1)) for five weeks and nine served as non-exposed controls. Thermal preference was assessed in an experimental chamber comprising three interconnected compartments, in which the air temperatures (Ta) were set to 24°C, 28°C and 31°C. Sleep and tail skin temperature were also recorded. Our results indicated that relative to control group, exposure to RF-EMF at 31°C was associated with a significantly lower tail skin temperature (-1.6°C) which confirmed previous data. During the light period, the exposed group preferred to sleep at Ta = 31°C and the controls preferred Ta = 28°C. The mean sleep duration in exposed group was significantly greater (by 15.5%) than in control group (due in turn to a significantly greater amount of slow wave sleep (SWS, +14.6%). Similarly, frequency of SWS was greater in exposed group (by 4.9 episodes.h-1). The PS did not differ significantly between the two groups. During the dark period, there were no significant intergroup differences. We conclude that RF-EMF exposure induced a shift in thermal preference towards higher temperatures. The shift in preferred temperature might result from a cold thermal sensation. The change in sleep stage distribution may involve signals from thermoreceptors in the skin. Modulation of SWS may be a protective adaptation in response to RF-EMF exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal / radiation effects*
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Radio Waves / adverse effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Skin Temperature / radiation effects
  • Sleep Stages / physiology
  • Sleep Stages / radiation effects
  • Temperature*

Grant support

This study was funded by a Post-Grenelle grant from the French Ministry of Ecology, as part of the Pôle applicatif en Toxicologie et Ecotoxicologie program coordinated by the French National Institute of Environment and Industrial Risks (INERIS) ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.