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, 16 (10), e3000018

Cryptochrome: The Magnetosensor With a Sinister Side?


Cryptochrome: The Magnetosensor With a Sinister Side?

Lukas Landler et al. PLoS Biol.


Over the last three decades, evidence has emerged that low-intensity magnetic fields can influence biological systems. It is now well established that migratory birds have the capacity to detect the Earth's magnetic field; it has been reported that power lines are associated with childhood leukemia and that pulsed magnetic fields increase the production of reactive oxidative species (ROS) in cellular systems. Justifiably, studies in this field have been viewed with skepticism, as the underlying molecular mechanisms are unknown. In the accompanying paper, Sherrard and colleagues report that low-flux pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMFs) result in aversive behavior in Drosophila larvae and ROS production in cell culture. They further report that these responses require the presence of cryptochrome, a putative magnetoreceptor. If correct, it is conceivable that carcinogenesis associated with power lines, PEMF-induced ROS generation, and animal magnetoreception share a common mechanistic basis.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Fig 1
Fig 1. Diagram showing devices that generate magnetic fields and their respective field strengths.
To date, most medically relevant magnetic fields are in the Tesla range and used for magnetic resonance imaging (1.5 T–10 T) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (1.5 T). Neodymium magnets produce static fields (100 mT), whereas low-flux PEMFs are in the range of 2 mT and oscillate in the range of 10 to 200 Hz. These fields are considerably stronger than the static field of the Earth (50 μT), oscillating fields generated by powerlines (10 μT, 50 Hz), and radio frequency waves (as low as 1 nT). Please note that the above field strengths should be considered as approximations, as there is considerable variation dependent on the device. PEMF, pulsed electromagnetic field.

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Grant support

This work was supported by the European Research Council [336725 to D.A.K.] and the Austrian Science Fund [Y726 to D.A.K.]. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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