Researchers from the Institute of Pathobiochemistry at the Medical Center of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany, have recently released results from a study in which they used animal experiments to assess the possibility that low-frequency alternating magnetic fields (LFMF), such as those generated by overhead power lines, are a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The study, entitled, “Low-frequency magnetic fields do not aggravate disease in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” was published in the February 26th, 2015 edition of Nature: Scientific Reports.
The specific causes of neurodegenerative diseases like AD and ALS are not completely understood. Presently, less than 10% of patients have a familial history. This means that for the majority of patients the reasons why they were diagnosed remains a mystery. Many risk factor possibilities have been proposed, including: age-related changes in metabolism, lifestyle influence, or environmental factors.
An environmental factor that has been the subject of scientific debate is exposure to LFMF, especially as the use of electrical devices has increased substantially in the digital age. After the release of epidemiologic data showing that LFMF may promote the development of AD and ALS, the World Health Organization (WHO) categorized LFMFs as a possible risk factor in AD. Other studies have shown inconclusive results, as well as evidence that exposure to magnetic fields does not represent a risk factor.
In a statement about this debate, Dr. Albrecht Clement, PhD, principal investigator at the Institute of Pathobiochemistry at the Mainz University Medical Center, and senior study author, stated, “At present, there is an extensive debate among the scientific community about how low-frequency magnetic fields might influence cell function at the molecular level. To our knowledge, no comprehensive study has been conducted so far to investigate the long-term effects of these fields on the onset of disease symptoms and the progression of both diseases under controlled conditions.”
In an effort to investigate the long-term effects, Dr. Clement and his team continuously exposed genetic mouse models of both AD and ALS from about 2 months to 18 months of age, to LF-MF. The magnetic field strength they used was about tenfold above the guidelines of the German Federal Emissions Control Act and the European Council recommendation for resident emission.
The researchers assessed behavioral and cognitive functioning, as well as after sacrificing the animals conducting extensive biochemical analysis of protein aggregation, glial (supportive cells of the CNS) activation and levels of toxic protein species.
The results of this first long-term exposure study were that a 16 month chronic exposure in a mouse model does not influence the onset and progression of AD and ALS, and that the development of these diseases are unlikely caused by LFMF exposure. Also, the abnormal inflammatory responses of the nervous system that are associated with both AD and ALS were not affected during exposure, nor were there any learning behaviors observed that are indicative of AD.
Concerning these results, Dr. Clement, commented, “These results show that exposure to low-frequency magnetic fields has no effect on either disease-related molecular processes or on potential, as yet unknown, disease mechanisms. Our findings thus tend to confirm the results of previous epidemiological studies that indicate no damaging effects of low-frequency magnetic fields.”
Since this study was funded by the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, it is important that future confirmatory studies in both animal and human models are conducted and financed by an independent source without a potential conflict of interest.