The rapid development of wireless communications has raised questions about their potential health risks. So far, the only identified biological effects of radiofrequency fields (RF) are known to be caused by heating, but the issue of potential nonthermal biological effects, especially on the central nervous system (CNS), remains open. We previously reported a decrease in the firing and bursting rates of neuronal cultures exposed to a Global System for Mobile (GSM) RF field at 1,800 MHz for 3 min (Moretti D, Garenne A, Haro E, Poulleier de Gannes F, Lagroye I, Lévêque P, Veyret B, Lewis N. Bioelectromagnetics 34: 571-578, 2013). The aim of the present work was to assess the dose-response relationship for this effect and also to identify a potential differential response elicited by pulse-modulated GSM and continuous-wave (CW) RF fields. Spontaneous bursting activity of neuronal cultures from rat embryonic cortices was recorded using 60-electrode multielectrode arrays (MEAs). At 17-28 days in vitro, the neuronal cultures were subjected to 15-min RF exposures, at specific absorption rates (SAR) ranging from 0.01 to 9.2 W/kg. Both GSM and CW signals elicited a clear decrease in bursting rate during the RF exposure phase. This effect became more marked with increasing SAR and lasted even beyond the end of exposure for the highest SAR levels. Moreover, the amplitude of the effect was greater with the GSM signal. Altogether, our experimental findings provide evidence for dose-dependent effects of RF signals on the bursting rate of neuronal cultures and suggest that part of the mechanism is nonthermal. NEW & NOTEWORTHY In this study, we investigated the effects of some radiofrequency (RF) exposure parameters on the electrical activity of neuronal cultures. We detected a clear decrease in bursting activity, dependent on exposure duration. The amplitude of this effect increased with the specific absorption rate (SAR) level and was greater with Global System for Mobile signal than with continuous-wave signal, at the same average SAR. Our experiment provides unique evidence of a decrease in electrical activity of cortical neuronal cultures during RF exposure.
Keywords: GSM-1800 signal; bursting rates; in vitro; neuronal cultures; radiofrequency field.