Alzheimer's Mice Respond to Cell Phone Exposure

A new study suggests potential for electromagnetic treatment against Alzheimer’s disease.


By Vickie Chachere

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 30,  2012)  - Exposure to the electromagnetic forces found in common cell phones activates neurons in the brains of mice predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease, helping improve their brain functions and holding the disease at bay, shows new research from the scientists who first discovered the potential memory benefits of electromagnetic treatment last year.


Retired University of South Florida Alzheimer’s researcher Gary Arendash and Takashi Mori of Saitama Medical Center in Japan led a team of scientists in 2010 that discovered long-term electromagnetic treatment at cell phone levels can protect Alzheimer’s mice from memory impairment and can reverse memory impairment in mice that already had the disease.


Now, the scientists have discovered an important mechanism to explain how electromagnetic exposure improves cognitive function, even for normal mice.


Their findings are reported in a study recently published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinsonism. The full study can be read here.


“The ability of long-term electromagnetic treatment to enhance neuronal activity in the brain is probably having beneficial effects on cognitive function, especially against development of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Arendash, who conducted the research while at USF and who holds a courtesy faculty position with the university after retiring last year.


No long-term controlled studies with electromagnetic treatment have been performed in humans yet.  A 2009 Danish study reported 30 to 40 percent less hospitalizations due to Alzheimer’s disease in long-term cell phone users. 


The new study’s authors believe the ability of electromagnetic treatment to enhance neuronal activity has extraordinary clinical potential against Alzheimer’s disease because decreases in brain neuronal activity occur early in the Alzheimer’s disease process - at a time when memory loss is mild and not severe enough to be diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. 


This new study suggests that one way that electromagnetic treatment benefits memory is by enhancing the activity of neurons in the brain that are important for cognitive function. A significant 21 percent increase in neuronal activity was observed both  in the brains of Alzheimer’s mice and normal mice two months into daily electromagnetic treatment - treatment that was identical to electromagnetic exposure experienced by human cell phone users.  More importantly, the enhanced neuronal activity occurred in a brain area critically important for memory called the entorhinal cortex, the scientists reported.


“We are not saying that individuals should self-treat themselves through cell phone exposure,” Arendash cautioned.  “This new field of cognitive neuromodulation requires us to find the best set of electromagnetic settings in animals prior to any human trials.”


 According to the researchers, the cell phone level settings used thus far are probably not optimal for providing memory benefits because it takes a number of months for daily treatment to induce most of the cognitive benefits observed in mice.  However, they believe that further research in coming years will lead to an optimized electromagnetic treatment in mice prior to advancing to human trials against Alzheimer’s disease.


 “The development of this new technology should not require the 10 or more years typical of drug development, with much of that time necessary to establishing safety,” Arendash said.


 “Our long-term controlled studies in mice, as well as long-term observational studies in humans, have established the safety of electromagnetic exposure at the levels we currently utilize.”


 In their study, the researchers treated Alzheimer’s mice and normal mice with cell phone level electromagnetic waves for two, two-hour periods daily.  After two months of treatment, the activity of neurons in the entorhinal cortex was analyzed mid-way between the two daily treatment periods, at exactly the same time between daily treatments that the mice had been cognitively evaluated days earlier.  In those cognitive tests, treated Alzheimer’s and normal mice were found to have better cognitive performance in a Y-maze task compared to untreated mice.


 “Our results indicate that electromagnetic treatment could be a safe, non-invasive way to treat Alzheimer’s disease without drugs,” Arendash said.  “Individuals with a number of other neurologic diseases and injuries, such as Parkinson’s disease and traumatic brain injury, could benefit from electromagnetic treatment as well.”


The researchers believe that electromagnetic treatment is “disease-modifying” against Alzheimer’s, meaning that it doesn’t act like current Alzheimer’s drugs to address the disease’s symptoms.  Rather, the researchers have discovered three inter-related mechanisms through which electromagnetic treatment might directly attack Alzheimer’s disease to provide cognitive benefit.


 First, as shown in their present study, the treatment elevates neuronal activity, which is low in Alzheimer’s brains.  Secondly, their treatment increases energy production in diseased neurons to make them more functional and less likely to die.


The third way electromagnetic treatment acts against Alzheimer’s is to disaggregate and remove from the brain the abnormal protein (β-amyloid) that most researchers believe is the root cause of the disease.  Toxic β-amyloid not only aggregates outside of neurons, but it also builds up and aggregates inside of neurons to cause their dysfunction and eventual death.


 “The only known way that this toxic β-amyloid can be removed from the inside of neurons is during neuronal activity,” Arendash said.  “Electromagnetic treatment not only appears to break up aggregated β-amyloid inside neurons, but also removes it from neurons by increasing their activity.”


Alzheimer’s disease is a growing health problem that begins in the brain 10 to 20 years before it causes memory problems.  With Americans living longer, more and more of them are entering Alzheimer’s most vulnerable decades of the 60s, 70s, and beyond.  Ten million Americans currently have some stage of Alzheimer’s and the odds of having this disease are an astounding 50 percent at age 85 and older.


“This is a horrific disease for patients, family, and governments to contend with for its 2-20 year duration,” Mori said.  “We need to find an effective therapeutic now, not wait more decades for an eventual drug that may or may not be found.”


Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.