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Keywords:

  • intracellular Ca2+;
  • voltage-gated calcium channels;
  • low frequency electromagnetic field exposure;
  • nitric oxide;
  • oxidative stress;
  • calcium channel blockers

Abstract

The direct targets of extremely low and microwave frequency range electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in producing non-thermal effects have not been clearly established. However, studies in the literature, reviewed here, provide substantial support for such direct targets. Twenty-three studies have shown that voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) produce these and other EMF effects, such that the L-type or other VGCC blockers block or greatly lower diverse EMF effects. Furthermore, the voltage-gated properties of these channels may provide biophysically plausible mechanisms for EMF biological effects. Downstream responses of such EMF exposures may be mediated through Ca2+/calmodulin stimulation of nitric oxide synthesis. Potentially, physiological/therapeutic responses may be largely as a result of nitric oxide-cGMP-protein kinase G pathway stimulation. A well-studied example of such an apparent therapeutic response, EMF stimulation of bone growth, appears to work along this pathway. However, pathophysiological responses to EMFs may be as a result of nitric oxide-peroxynitrite-oxidative stress pathway of action. A single such well-documented example, EMF induction of DNA single-strand breaks in cells, as measured by alkaline comet assays, is reviewed here. Such single-strand breaks are known to be produced through the action of this pathway. Data on the mechanism of EMF induction of such breaks are limited; what data are available support this proposed mechanism. Other Ca2+-mediated regulatory changes, independent of nitric oxide, may also have roles. This article reviews, then, a substantially supported set of targets, VGCCs, whose stimulation produces non-thermal EMF responses by humans/higher animals with downstream effects involving Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent nitric oxide increases, which may explain therapeutic and pathophysiological effects.