Extremely low frequency magnetic field induces human neuronal differentiation through NMDA receptor activation

J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2019 Oct;126(10):1281-1290. doi: 10.1007/s00702-019-02045-5. Epub 2019 Jul 17.


Magnetic fields with different frequency and intensity parameters exhibit a wide range of effects on different biological models. Extremely low frequency magnetic field (ELF MF) exposure is known to augment or even initiate neuronal differentiation in several in vitro and in vivo models. This effect holds potential for clinical translation into treatment of neurodegenerative conditions such as autism, Parkinson's disease and dementia by promoting neurogenesis, non-invasively. However, the lack of information on underlying mechanisms hinders further investigation into this phenomenon. Here, we examine involvement of glutamatergic Ca2+ channel, N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the process of human neuronal differentiation under ELF MF exposure. We show that human neural progenitor cells (hNPCs) differentiate more efficiently under ELF MF exposure in vitro, as demonstrated by the abundance of neuronal markers. Furthermore, they exhibit higher intracellular Ca2+ levels as evidenced by c-fos expression and more elongated mature neurites. We were able to neutralize these effects by blocking NMDA receptors with memantine. As a result, we hypothesize that the effects of ELF MF exposure on neuronal differentiation originate from the effects on NMDA receptors, which sequentially triggers Ca2+-dependent cascades that lead to differentiation. Our findings identify NMDA receptors as a new key player in this field that will aid further research in the pursuit of effect mechanisms of ELF MFs.

Keywords: Extremely low frequency magnetic field (ELF MF); Human neural progenitor cells (hNPCs); N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor; Neuronal differentiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Fetus
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Fields*
  • Memantine / pharmacology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / physiology*
  • Telencephalon / cytology
  • Telencephalon / drug effects
  • Telencephalon / physiology


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Memantine