In the present lifestyle, we are continuously exposed to radiofrequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) radiation generated mainly by mobile phones (MP). Among other organs, our brain and hippocampus in specific, is the region where effect of any environmental perturbation is most pronounced. So, this study was aimed to examine changes in major parameters (oxidative stress, level of pro-inflammatory cytokines (PICs), hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis hormones, and contextual fear conditioning) which are linked to hippocampus directly or indirectly, upon exposure to mobile phone radiofrequency electromagnetic field (MP-RF-EMF) radiation. Exposure was performed on young adult male Wistar rats for 16 weeks continuously (2 h/day) with MP-RF-EMF radiation having frequency, power density, and specific absorption rate (SAR) of 1966.1 MHz, 4.0 mW/cm2, and 0.36 W/kg, respectively. Another set of animals kept in similar conditions without any radiation exposure serves as control. Towards the end of exposure period, animals were tested for fear memory and then euthanized to measure hippocampal oxidative stress, level of circulatory PICs, and stress hormones. We observed significant increase in hippocampal oxidative stress (p < 0.05) and elevated level of circulatory PICs viz. IL-1beta (p < 0.01), IL-6 (p < 0.05), and TNF-alpha (p < 0.001) in experimental animals upon exposure to MP-RF-EMF radiation. Adrenal gland weight (p < 0.001) and level of stress hormones viz. adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) (p < 0.01) and corticosterone (CORT) (p < 0.05) were also found to increase significantly in MP-RF-EMF radiation-exposed animals as compared with control. However, alteration in contextual fear memory was not significant enough. In conclusion, current study shows that chronic exposure to MP-RF-EMF radiation emitted from mobile phones may induce oxidative stress, inflammatory response, and HPA axis deregulation. However, changes in hippocampal functionality depend on the complex interplay of several opposing factors that got affected upon MP-RF-EMF exposure.
Keywords: Contextual fear conditioning; Hippocampus; Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis; Mobile phone; Oxidative stress; Pro-inflammatory cytokines; Radiofrequency electromagnetic field.