BBEMG - Belgian BioElectroMagnetics Group

Belgian BioElectroMagnetics Group

in vitro study on Alzheimer disease (2009-2021)

in vitro study on Alzheimer disease (2009-2021)

Belgian Scientific Institute for Public Health
Genetic toxicology
J. Wytsmanstraat 14
B-1050 Brussels


Activity reports


L. Verschaeve, A. Maes, R. Anthonissen, M. Ledent

Our investigations on the possible association between exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease was completed with a cytogenetic study using Fluorescence In Situ Hybridisation (FISH) methods. With this study we could not confirm earlier findings and hence did not find arguments in favour of an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease due to exposure to ELF-magnetic fields. 


L. Verschaeve, A. Maes, R. Anthonissen

Our investigations on the possible association between exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease focussed on in vitro (cyto)genetic investigations in human cell lines. We found structural chromosome aberrations at exposure levels >100 μT which is in accordance with literature data. However we also found some evidence for genetic damage at ≥ 50 μT exposure levels, presumably cell division disturbances and gene amplification. This may indicate some effect that corresponds with effects seen in AD patients. However this is by now far from sure and at present we are refining the investigation by further in depth studies. Results are not yet available.

Finally, we also found less genetic damage compared to that found in unexposed cells at low exposure levels (<10 μT) which may indicate an 'adaptive response'. It remains unclear yet whether this at first sight beneficial biological effect remains when cells/organisms are exposed for prolonged periods of time. It seems important to further investigate this.

We also wrote and published a literature review on 'Genetic damage in humans exposed to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields' (see in our literature reviews). Although genetic effects were often reported we believe that no firm conclusion can be reached yet due to shortcomings of the majority of the published investigations.

We finally participated in a number of national or international working groups on ‘non ionizing radiations’ and attended a number of meetings. 


L. Verschaeve, A. Maes, R. Anthonissen, H. Moukhliss

Our studies on the possible association between exposure to extreme low frequency magnetic fields and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease focussed on in vitro (cyto)genetic investigations in human cell lines. We especially paid attention to possible cooperative genetic effects with environmental mutagens/carcinogens, and induction of defects that are in accordance with genetic damage found in cells from Alzheimer patients. We therefore validated the so-called “cytome test”, performed the bacterial VITOTOX test to investigate cooperative DNA damaging effects with chemical mutagens (different modes of action) and performed the cytome test in human C3A and SH-SY5Y cells exposed to ELF-magnetic fields. IMR-32 cells were also investigated but results are not fully available.

Our results can so far be summarized as follows:

  • No (clear) indication of a ‘cooperative effect’ with chemical mutagens or carcinogens. We indeed found no such effects with the bacterial Vitotox test but previous results (1) on human white blood cells and co-exposure with an aneugen did show some, though limited effects.
  • We found increased numbers of cells with large micronuclei (indicating an aneugenic action) and nuclear buds (indicating gene amplification). There was, as expected, no effect on structural chromosome aberrations (nucleoplasmic bridges and small micronuclei).
  • No clear effect on cell proliferation (nuclear division index) or apoptosis (programmed cell death). At 500 µT cell proliferation was slightly increased (higher nuclear division index) but this was not statistically significant. In our previous work (1) on lymphocytes effects were seen on cell proliferation at high exposure levels (800 µT).
  • No cell-specific response was found in this sense that C3A and SH-SY5Y cells (analyses not finished) apparently show the same response to the ELF-magnetic field. But human lymphocytes seem to have a different response (according to our results from 2003).
  • With “FISH staining” we will be able to confirm (or not) the effect on aneuploidy (cell division disturbances) and the possible involvement of chromosomes 21 and 17 on which the amyloid β and Tau genes are located.  Both genes are considered of uttermost importance in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This will, together with termination of the present experiments be a priority for the next 9 months period.
  • The ‘dose-response curves were non-monotonic. Although a large number of compounds seem to be able to produce such effect (e.g., natural hormones, environmental pollutants, plastics, phytoestrogens and pesticides) it is not clear how to explain this finding with respect to ELF-MFs.

It should be stressed that despite some findings as indicated above there is so far no robust evidence of any effect of ELF-magnetic fields on the onset or course of Alzheimer’s disease.

(1) 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.


Publications related to BBEMG activities

Maes A, Verschaeve L. (2016)
Genetic damage in humans exposed to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields. Arch Toxicol., 90(10):2337-2348.
>> Abstract in PubMed or in our literature reviews

Maes A., Anthonissen R., Verschaeve L. (2015)
On the alleged association between extreme low frequency magnetic field exposures and an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease.
In Ristic G., ed., Proc. 3rd International Conference on Radiation and Applications in Various Fields of Research, 8-13 June, Budva, Montenegro, RAD Association, Niš, Serbia, pp. 451-454.

Maes A., & Verschaeve L. (2011).
Can cytogenetics explain the possible association between exposure to extreme low frequency magnetic fields and Alzheimer's disease? J. Appl. Toxicol., 32(2), 81–87.
>> Abstract in PubMed

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Latest update on 16/01/2019

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