Semi-quantitative proteomics of mammalian cells upon short-term exposure to non-ionizing electromagnetic fields

PLoS One. 2017 Feb 24;12(2):e0170762. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0170762. eCollection 2017.


The potential effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (EMFs), such as those emitted by power-lines (in extremely low frequency range), mobile cellular systems and wireless networking devices (in radio frequency range) on human health have been intensively researched and debated. However, how exposure to these EMFs may lead to biological changes underlying possible health effects is still unclear. To reveal EMF-induced molecular changes, unbiased experiments (without a priori focusing on specific biological processes) with sensitive readouts are required. We present the first proteome-wide semi-quantitative mass spectrometry analysis of human fibroblasts, osteosarcomas and mouse embryonic stem cells exposed to three types of non-ionizing EMFs (ELF 50 Hz, UMTS 2.1 GHz and WiFi 5.8 GHz). We performed controlled in vitro EMF exposures of metabolically labeled mammalian cells followed by reliable statistical analyses of differential protein- and pathway-level regulations using an array of established bioinformatics methods. Our results indicate that less than 1% of the quantitated human or mouse proteome responds to the EMFs by small changes in protein abundance. Further network-based analysis of the differentially regulated proteins did not detect significantly perturbed cellular processes or pathways in human and mouse cells in response to ELF, UMTS or WiFi exposure. In conclusion, our extensive bioinformatics analyses of semi-quantitative mass spectrometry data do not support the notion that the short-time exposures to non-ionizing EMFs have a consistent biologically significant bearing on mammalian cells in culture.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Phone
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Protein Biosynthesis / radiation effects*
  • Proteome / radiation effects*
  • Proteomics*
  • Transcriptome / radiation effects
  • Wireless Technology


  • Proteome

Grants and funding

This work was supported by Zon-MW ( subsidy in Electromagnetic Fields & Health [85800003, 85100004, 85300007]; the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO, Gravitation subsidy Cancer Genomics Netherlands. This work was part of the project Proteins At Work, a program of The Netherlands Proteomics Centre financed by NWO as part of the National Roadmap Large-Scale Research Facilities of The Netherlands [184.032.201], and was carried out on the Dutch national e-infrastructure with the support of SURF Foundation. Funding for open access charge: Zon-MW subsidy in Electromagnetic Fields & Health [85800003].