Epidemiological studies have shown weak correlations between exposure to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF EMFs) and the incidence of several cancers, particularly childhood leukemias, although negative studies have also been reported. These observations have prompted a broad range of in vitro cellular studies in which effects of ELF EMFs have been observed. However, no reported response has been replicated widely in independent laboratories. One potentially important response is the rapid activation of proto-oncogenes and other genes in human leukemic (HL60) cells and a wide variety of other eukaryotic cells, because of the role of these genes in cell proliferation. We describe quantitative Northern analysis of MYC and beta-actin mRNAs from HL60 cells exposed to fields under conditions very similar to those reported previously to activate these genes, namely 60 Hz sinusoidal magnetic fields of 0.57, 5.7 or 57 microT for 20 min. In addition we have used a new design of field-exposure system and introduced a number of other modifications to the protocol to optimize any response. We have also developed a novel method providing enhanced accuracy for the quantitative measurement of mRNA. No significant effect of ELF EMFs on gene expression was observed using any of these systems and analytical methods.