It is interesting to theorize that a range of treatments as effective as some drugs might emerge from the use of electromagnetic fields in medicine. Researchers are still in the very early stages of establishing the boundaries of the possible, however - you might look at work involving transcranial magnetic stimulation as an example of present explorations. Clearly it is possible to influence biology with electromagnetism, but what types of influence are plausible and controllable? It doesn't seem completely out of the question that some forms of electromagnetic field could change the behavior of cells in ways that are similar to that achieved with specific types of globally applied drug compounds, but it remains an open question as to how useful or limited this might prove to be.
Here researchers provide evidence for one desirable outcome that can be attained via suitable magnetic fields. They demonstrate an effective boost to rates of neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons in the brain. Higher rates of neurogenesis imply greater neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to adapt, repair, and resist minor damage - which overall seems to be a good thing to aim for. In this work the scientists are not increasing the pace at which new neurons are created, as is the case in some other approaches, but are instead enhancing the survival of those cells.
In recent years, much effort has been devoted to identifying stimuli capable of enhancing adult neurogenesis, a process that generates new neurons throughout life, and that appears to be dysfunctional in the senescent brain and in several neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. We previously reported that in vivo exposure to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields (ELFEFs) promotes the proliferation and neuronal differentiation of hippocampal neural stem cells (NSCs) that functionally integrate in the dentate gyrus.
Here, we extended our studies to specifically assess the influence of ELFEFs on hippocampal newborn cell survival, which is a very critical issue in adult neurogenesis regulation. Mice were injected with 5-bromo-2′-deoxyuridine (BrdU) to label newborn cells, and were exposed to ELFEFs 9 days later, when the most dramatic decrease in the number of newly generated neurons occurs. The results showed that ELFEF exposure (3.5 h/day for 6 days) enhanced newborn neuron survival.
The effects of ELFEFs were associated with enhanced spatial learning and memory. In an in vitro model of hippocampal NSCs, ELFEFs exerted their pro-survival action by rescuing differentiating neurons from apoptotic cell death. Western immunoblot assay revealed reduced expression of the pro-apoptotic protein Bax, and increased levels of the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2, in the hippocampi of ELFEF-exposed mice as well as in ELFEF-exposed NSC cultures, as compared with their sham-exposed counterparts. Our results may have clinical implications for the treatment of impaired neurogenesis associated with brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases.