How electromagnetically-induced cell leakage may cause autism
Dr Andrew Goldsworthy explains
What is autism?
Autism is in fact a group of life-long disorders (autistic spectrum disorders or ASD) caused by brain malfunctions and is associated with subtle changes in brain anatomy (see Amaral et al. 2008 for a review). The core symptoms are an inability to communicate adequately with others and include abnormal social behaviour, poor verbal and non-verbal communication, unusual and restricted interests, and persistent repetitive behaviour. There are also non-core symptoms, such as an increased risk of epileptic seizures, anxiety and mood disorders. ASD has a strong genetic component, occurs predominantly in males and tends to run in families.
Genetic ASD may be caused by calcium entering neurons
It has been hypothesised that some genetic forms of ASD can be accounted for by known mutations in the genes for ion channels that result in an increased background concentration of calcium in neurons. This would be expected to lead to neuronal hyperactivity, the formation of sometimes unnecessary and inappropriate synapses, which in turn can lead to ASD (Krey and Dolmetsch 2007).
Electromagnetic fields let calcium into neurons too
There has been a 60-fold increase in ASD in recent years, which cannot be accounted for by improvements in diagnostic methods and can only be explained by changes in the environment. This increase corresponds in time to the proliferation of mobile telecommunications, WiFi, and microwave ovens as well as extremely low frequency fields (ELF) from mains wiring and domestic appliances. We can now explain this in terms of electromagnetically-induced membrane leakage leading to brain hyperactivity and abnormal brain development.
Non-ionising radiation makes cell membranes leak
The first effect of non-ionising electromagnetic radiation is to generate small alternating voltages across the cell membranes, which destabilize them and make them leak. This can have all sorts of consequences as unwanted substances diffuse into and out of cells unhindered, and materials in different parts of the cell that are normally kept separate, become mixed.
Why weak fields are more damaging than strong ones
We have known since the work of Suzanne Bawin and her co-workers (Bawin et al. 1975) that modulated radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation that is far too weak to cause significant heating can nevertheless remove calcium ions (positively charged calcium atoms) from cell membranes in the brain. Later, Carl Blackman showed that this also occurs with extremely low frequency electromagnetic radiation (ELF) but only within one or more “amplitude windows”, above and below which there is little or no effect (Blackman et al. 1982; Blackman 1990). A proposed molecular mechanism for this can be found in Goldsworthy (2010). In particular, it explains why weak electromagnetic fields can have a greater effect than strong ones and why prolonged exposure to weak fields (where cells are maintained in the unstable condition for longer) is potentially more damaging than relatively brief exposure to much stronger ones.
How calcium ions stabilize cell membranes
This loss of calcium is important because calcium ions bind to and stabilize the negatively charged membranes of living cells. They sit between the negatively charged components of the cell membrane and bind them together rather like mortar binds together the bricks in a wall. Loss of just some of these calcium ions destabilize the membrane and make it more inclined to leak, which can have serious metabolic consequences. Among these are the effects of membrane leakage on the neurons of the brain.
Because the pruning process in electromagnetically-exposed children may be more random, it could leave the child with a defective hard-wired mind-set for social interactions, which may then contribute to the various autistic spectrum disorders. These children are not necessarily unintelligent; they may even have more brain cells than the rest of us and some may actually be savants. They may just be held back from having a normal life by a deficiency in the dedicated hard-wired neural networks needed for efficient communication with others.
A useful homology might be in the socialisation of dogs. If puppies do not meet and interact with other dogs within the first four months of their life (equivalent to about two human years), they too develop autistic behaviour. They become withdrawn, afraid of other dogs and strangers, and are incapable of normal “pack” behaviour. Once this four-month window has passed, the effect seems to be irreversible (just like autism). If this homology is correct, it suggests that experiments on dogs could hold the key to the investigation of autism and its possible links with electromagnetic exposure.
Amaral DG, Schumann CM, Nordahl CW (2008), Neuroanatomy of Autism, Trends in Neurosciences 31: 137-145
Krey JF, Dolmetsch RE (2007) Molecular mechanisms of autism: a possible role for Ca2+ signaling. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 17: 112-119
Volkow ND, Tomasi D, Wang G, Vaska P, Fowler JS, Telang F, Alexoff D, Logan J, Wong C (2011), Effects of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Signal Exposure on Brain Glucose Metabolism. JAMA. 305 (8):808-813. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.186
First published May 2011
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