The genotoxic potential of electric and magnetic fields: an update

Mutat Res. 1998 Aug;411(1):45-86. doi: 10.1016/s1383-5742(98)00006-4.


We review 23 studies on the potential genotoxicity of electric and magnetic fields that have appeared in the published literature since our 1993 review of 55 published studies (McCann et al., Mutat. Res. 297 (1993) 61-95) and six additional studies published prior to 1993, which were not previously reviewed. As in our previous review, internal electric fields present in media (for in vitro experiments) and in the torso (for in vivo experiments) were estimated. Individual experiments are evaluated using basic data quality criteria. The potential for genotoxicity of electric and magnetic fields is discussed in light of the significant body of genotoxicity data that now exists. Three unsuccessful attempts to replicate previously reported positive results have appeared since our previous review. We conclude that, in spite of the 34 studies reviewed in this and our previous publication that report positive genotoxic effects, none satisfy all of three basic conditions: independent reproducibility, consistency with the scientific knowledge base, and completeness according to basic data quality criteria. As we discuss, these criteria are satisfied for several groups of negative studies in several exposure categories (ELF magnetic fields, 150 microT-5 mT, combined ELF electric and ELF magnetic fields, approx. 0.2 mT, 240 mV/m, and static magnetic fields, 1-3.7 T). The evidence reviewed here strengthens the conclusion of our previous review, that the preponderance of evidence suggests that ELF electric or magnetic fields do not have genotoxic potential. Nevertheless, a pool of positive results remains, which have not yet been tested by independent replication. Among the 12 studies reviewed here, which report statistically significant or suggestive positive results, we point particularly to results from five laboratories [J. Miyakoshi, N. Yamagishi, S. Ohtsu, K. Mohri, H. Takebe, Increase in hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyl transferase gene mutations by exposure to high-density 50-Hz magnetic fields, Mutat. Res. 349 (1996) 109-114; J. Miyakoshi, K. Kitagawa, H. Takebe, Mutation induction by high-density, 50-Hz magnetic fields in human MeWo cells exposed in the DNA synthesis phase, Int. J. Radiat. Biol. 71 (1997) 75-79; H. Lai. N.P. Singh, Acute exposure to a 60-Hz magnetic field increases DNA strand breaks in rat brain cells, Bioelectromagnetics, 18 (1997) 156-165; H. Lai, N.P. Singh, Melatonin and N-tert-butyl-alpha-phenylnitrone block 60-Hz magnetic field-induced DNA single and double strand breaks in rat brain cells, J. Pineal Res. 22 (1997) 152-162; T. Koana, M. Ikehata, M. Nakagawa, Estimation of genetic effects of a static magnetic field by a somatic cell test using mutagen-sensitive mutants of Drosophila melanogaster, Bioelectrochem. Bioenergetics 36 (1995) 95-100; F.L. Tabrah, H.F. Mower, S. Batkin, P.B. Greenwood, Enhanced mutagenic effect of a 60-Hz time-varying magnetic field on numbers of azide-induced TA100 revertant colonies, Bioelectromagnetics 15 (1994) 85-93; S. Tofani, A. Ferrara, L. Anglesio, G. Gilli, Evidence for genotoxic effects of resonant ELF magnetic fields, Bioelectrochem. Bioenergetics, 36 (1995) 9-13], which satisfy most basic data quality criteria and may be of interest.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromosomes / genetics
  • Chromosomes / radiation effects
  • DNA Repair
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Gamma Rays / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes / radiation effects
  • Micronucleus Tests
  • Mutagenicity Tests / trends*
  • Mutagens / toxicity*
  • Salmonella / genetics
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects
  • X-Rays / adverse effects


  • Mutagens