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Increased brain metabolism by mobile phone use

Increased brain metabolism by mobile phone use - Martje de Groot; co-authored by Remco Westerink

In recent years, scientific and societal concern regarding exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) has been increasing, especially since there is a dramatic increase in the use of cell phones. These concerns include the suggested risk of brain cancer or change in brain function. It is in that respect noteworthy that recent research by Volkow et al from the National Institute of Drug Abuse in Bethesda demonstrated that cell phone exposure can increase brain glucose metabolism.

Volkow et al. conducted a randomized crossover study among 47 healthy participants to evaluate whether acute cell phone exposure affects regional activity in the human brain. In the study, cell phones were placed on both the left and right ears of the participants and either one cell phone was activated or both cell phones were deactivated. Meanwhile, positron emission tomography (PET) with injection of (18F) fluorodeoxyglucose was used to non-invasively measure brain glucose metabolism.

The data indicated that whole-brain metabolism did not differ between activated and deactivated conditions. However, the brain regions closest to the cell phone antenna, the orbitofrontal cortex and temporal pole, showed significantly higher glucose metabolism for the activated condition compared to the deactivated condition. Additionally, these increases in glucose metabolism correlated with the estimated electromagnetic field (EMF) amplitudes, suggesting a causal relationship.

Acute exposure to EMF emitted by cell phones can thus affect brain metabolic activity. However, the clinical significance as well as the mechanism(s) underlying the increase in brain glucose metabolism caused by radiofrequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) exposures is currently unknown. It is therefore essential that subsequent studies are performed to assess if (long-term) RF-EMF exposure can induce adverse health effects.

As the affected brain regions are critically involved in a wide range of human behaviours and sensations, includingdecision making, facial recognition and social cognition, future research may focus on effects of RF-EMF exposure on these endpoints in a variety of behavioural assays to establish a clear exposure - (clinical) effect relationship.

Moreover, the results from Volkow et al indicate that RF-EMF exposure increases brain glucose metabolism, which is suggestive for increased brain activity. Importantly, increased glucose metabolism correlates not only with increased brain activity, but also with increased oxidative stress. Similarly, EMF exposure has previously been associated with oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is in turn associated with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Future research should therefore carefully assess if a dose-effect relationship exists between EMF-exposure and oxidative stress, both in vitro and in vivo.