Background: Considerable controversy has surrounded the question of possible biological responses to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) generated from visual display terminals (VDTs), such as personal computers (PCs) and ordinary television sets (TVs). The cellular and molecular mechanisms for such potential harmful health hazards have not yet been understood, although clues from the literature include mast cells and histamine. The aim of this study was therefore to investigate possible biological mast cell responses to TV/PC screens.
Methods: Using the indirect immunofluorescence technique, we studied the presence of histamine-containing mast cells in the dermis of healthy volunteers. Cutaneous biopsies taken before and after exposure to ordinary TV/PC screens for 2 or 4 h were investigated in 13 healthy subjects.
Results: Our present in vivo study indicates that normal cutaneous mast cells could be altered by exposure from ordinary TV/PC screens. To our great surprise, we found the number of mast cells in the papillary and reticular dermis to increase, to varying degrees, in 5 out the 13 subjects after such an exposure. A migration of mast cells towards the uppermost dermis appeared as the most important event. Thus, the normally upper “empty zone” of the dermis disappeared, and instead, a higher density of mast cells were found in this zone. These cells also seemed to have a tendency to increase in number towards the epidermal-dermal junctional zone and some of them lost their granular content and the cytoplasm shrunk (=degranulation). These findings could only be seen in the exposed skin. Two of the 13 cases instead showed a decrease in mast cell number, but the shift in mast cells towards the upper dermis was still visible. Twenty-four h after the provocation, the cellular number and location were normalized in all subjects.
Conclusions: By definition, normal healthy volunteers are assumed not to react to a TV/PC screen provocation. To our great surprise, this proved not to be true. The present results might lay a foundation to understand the underlying cause of so-called “screen dermatitis” with special reference to mast cells. However, blind or double-blind experiments using patients ought to be further investigated in order to find out the exact cause for the observed changes. Such causes include the effects of surrounding airborne chemicals, stress factors, etc.