Cell Phones Fry Memory

Rats exposed to mobile phone radiation for two hours a week for more than a year suffered memory loss. The findings may be related to earlier findings that microwave radiation from cell phones affects the blood-brain barrier.

The team from Lund University in Sweden previously found that albumin, a protein that acts as a transport molecule in the blood, leaks into brain tissue when lab animals are exposed to mobile phone radiation. Now they find damaged nerve cells in the cerebral cortex and in the hippocampus, the memory centers of the brain. Although the albumin leakage occurs directly after radiation, the nerve damage takes four to eight weeks to manifest.

Furthermore, the team discovered alterations in the activity of a large number of genes after cell phone radiation—not in individual genes but in groups that are functionally related. "We now see that things happen to the brains of lab animals after cell phone radiation. The next step is to try to understand why this happens," says Henrietta Nittby. She has a cell phone herself, but never holds it to her ear, using hands-free equipment instead. . . The lab animals, lacking opposable thumbs, have no choice. Oh, wait, aren't we all lab animals, in our own special way?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the PEN USA Literary Award, the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal.