Genetic effects of 50Hz EMF (1995-2005)


Milieu toxicologie
Mol, België

Activity reports


L. Verschaeve, A. Maes & R. Anthonissen

The possible carcinogenic effects of extremely low frequency magnetic fields (ELF-MF) are still a matter of debate and controversy. As carcinogenesis is most often related to genetic effects (mutation) it is considered of great importance to conduct studies on ELF-induced genetic effects. For the current period (2001-2005), the team investigations were mainly devoted to: (1) the comet assay in brain and blood cells of mice exposed to ELF-magnetic fields and; (2) effects of co-exposure to 50 Hz magnetic fields with an aneugen (e.g. a chemical that increases the number of cells with an abnormal chromosome count).

We did not find important genetic “damage” following relatively high exposure levels, but some subtle changes were found however. These changes involved DNA damage as well as changes in gene-expression profiles and cell proliferation.

Overall, our observations were not sufficient to allow any conclusion in favor of ELF-induced negative health effects in humans.


L. Verschaeve, A. Maes & R. Anthonissen

In the frame of the present research agreement we have continued work on ELF-induced cell proliferation.

Our study was on ELF-magnetic field induced effects on blood formation and cell proliferation. Last year we reported that exposure of murine bone marrow cells, from male and female mice, to 50 Hz magnetic fields showed a reduction in the proliferation and differentiation of granulocyte-macrophage progenitor cells (CFU-GM) compared to non-exposed bone marrow cells. Similar, though less clear, results were obtained with regard to stromal cell proliferation (CFU-f). This year, further investigations were performed using human cord blood (CFU-GM, BFU-E). Thus far, we have not been able to find a clear-cut influence of ELF fields on the proliferation and differentiation of the considered stem cells. However, 80 and 100 µT exposed cells might show a slight reduction in CFU-GM proliferation.


Maes A., Den Hond E., & Verschaeve L. (2007)
Use of METAFER-image analysis system for scoring micronuclei in binucleated human white blood cells. Microscopy and Analysis 21, 7-9 (EU).

Verheyen G., Pauwels G., Verschaeve L., & Schoeters G. (2003)
The effect of co-exposure of 50 Hz magnetic fields and an aneugen on human lymphocytes, determined by the cytokinesis-block micronucleus assay. Bioelectromagnetics , 24, 160-164.

Bergqvist U. , Brix J., de Gruijl F., de Seze R.,Hietanen M., Jeffereys J.G.R., Lagroye I. , Lotz G.W., Owen R.D., Repacholi M.H., Saunders R., Tenforde T.S., Verschaeve L., & Veyret B. (2003)
Review of experimental investigations of EMF biological effects (0-100 kHz) – ICNIRP Standing committee II. In: Matthes R., McKinley A., Bernhardt J., Vecchia P., Veyret B., eds., Exposure to static and low frequency electromagnetic fields, biological effects and health consequences . ICNIRP13/2003, ISBN 3-934994-03-2.

Van Den Heuvel R., Leppens H., Nematova G., & Verschaeve L. (2001)
Haemopoietic cell proliferation in murine bone marrow cells exposed to extreme low-frequency (ELF) electromagnetic fields. Toxicol. In Vitro 15, 351-355.

Maes A., Collier M., Vandoninck S., & Verschaeve L. (2000)
Cytogenetic effects of 50 Hz magnetic fields of different magnetic flux densities. Bioelectromagnetics 21, 589-596.

Maes A., L. & Verschaeve (1997)
Biologische effecten van electromagnetische velden: extreem lage- en Radiofrequenties. Arbeidsgezondheidszorg & Ergonomie , XXXIV, 129-130.

Verschaeve L. (1995)
Can non-ionizing radiation induce cancer? Cancer J. 8, 237-249.