Mobile phone usage has become an integral part of our lives. However, the effects of the radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR) emitted by these devices on biological systems, including reproductive systems in particular, are still in active debate. A fundamental hindrance to this debate is that there is no clear mechanism to explain how such non-ionizing radiation influences biological systems. A recent study, by researchers at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), explored the documented impacts of RF-EMR on sperm and the male reproductive system and proposed a mechanism for this biological damage.
Among a total of 27 studies investigating the effects of RF-EMR on the male reproductive system, negative consequences of exposure were reported in 21. Within these 21 studies, 11 of the 15 that investigated sperm motility reported significant declines, 7 of 7 that measured the production of reactive oxygen species documented elevated levels, and 4 of 5 studies that probed for DNA damage highlighted increased damage due to RF-EMR exposure. RF-EMR treatment reduced antioxidant levels in 6 of 6 studies that studied this phenomenon, while consequences of RF-EMR were successfully ameliorated with the supplementation of antioxidants in all 3 studies that carried out these experiments. In light of this, NCBI scientists envisage a two-step mechanism whereby cell phones and other devices emitting EMR are able to induce mitochondrial dysfunction, elevated ROS production, and related sperm damage. Future studies aim to explore the proposed mechanism in a variety of cell types and possible treatment strategies.
BJ Houston, B Nixon, BV King, G De Iuliis, RJ Aitken. “The Effects of Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Radiation on Sperm Function,” Reproduction, Dec. 2016; 152(6):R263-R276. [Epub: Sep 6, 2016, ahead of print]. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27601711; http://www.reproduction-online.org/content/early/2016/09/06/REP-16-0126.full.pdf.
Student Researcher: Bethany Surface (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)