Interaction of brain functions with electromagnetic fields

This research line has been structured under three main objectives:

Objective 1: Research on brain communication mechanisms with very low frequency and intensity pulsed magnetic fields. Development of new devices and magnetic actuators, fMRI compatible, for clinical applications and low electromagnetic fields: fibromyalgia, trigeminal neuralgia, migraine, depression, etc.

The possible applications of low-intensity electromagnetic fields for the treatment of various diseases has led us to investigate the basis of the processes of pain in those diseases (fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, headaches etc) located in what is called “central pain processing”. We have used different techniques (fMRI, MEG) to identify these pain processes, concluding that they could be explained by alterations in the processing of information in specific neural networks: Increased brain responses subjectively-matched during mechanical pain stimulation in fibromyalgia patients as evidenced by MEG. Clin Neurophysiol. 2013 Apr; 124 (4):752-60).

We have performed tests applying mechanical stimulation systems en cualquier lugar painful (epicondyle) with a patented device developed in the CTB that allows mechanical stimulation compatible with MRI systems and MEG. In these tests we checked different processing of pain signals compared to control subjects, in this case using a diffusion tensor.

Later we found that by applying low-intensity magnetic fields devices, we can reverse those painful symptoms, by modifying the processing of the pain signals to the brain. The application device has been authorized by the agency of medicine and health products (No. 2012 02 0783 CD) and it is now being used in clinical practice, showing results in the reduction of symptomatic (pain, headache, sleep disorders, etc.) in over 80 % of the cases.

Objective 2: Study of Pain Brain Function in Transgenic mice with fragile X syndrome by DTI-MRI images and memory tests. The objective of this research project is to measure brain connectivity on  transgenic mice with fragile X syndrome by DTI-MRI images during painful mechanical stimulation tests, memory tests and histology records versus controls, differences in processing the signals (x experimental controls) using DTI pain, memory tests (Barnes maze) and histology to identify structural alterations compared to controls.

Objective 3: Pulsed Magnetic Field Stimulation to enhance Neurite Growth. Electric and magnetic fields have been known to influence cellular behaviour. Several studies have described that the application of magnetic fields to neurons causes neurites to grow in a specific direction. Neurons can be regenerated to some degree by the elongation of neuronal processes and the connexion with other neurons via synapse formation. Therefore, the formation of new neuronal processes spatially directed by magnetic fields may have a great clinical interest in neuronal regeneration therapies, like spinal cord sections and neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson´s and Alzheimer´s disease). Although the direction of neuronal processes has been known to be influenced by a pulsed magnetic field, it is still unknown whether magnetic fields directly affect the long-term viability and the physiological properties of neurons.

Previous studies have been carried out under environmental magnetic field. Further studies are needed to perform with isolation of the external EMF to analyze the real influence of LFEMFs applied to neuronal cells. Thus, one of the major goals of this project is to design an experimental setup that allows in vitro growth of neuronal cells, isolated from environmental EMF, and in turn, stimulated with an electromagnetic field of low intensity and low frequency.

Our hypothesis is that the application of low frecuency magnetic fields to neurons will cause neurites to grow in a specific direction. Magnetic stimulation will be applied to neurons in vitro to influence axonal growth. We will determine whether induced current would direct and enhance neurite growth in the direction of the current. In this context we will analyze a large group of physiological cell parameters that can be affected by low EMF exposure and will determine the neurite outgrowth, neuronal metabolic state and neuronal survival.

Objetive 4: Environmental EMF Dosimetry. The control of the levels of exposure to artificial electromagnetic fields is among the concerns of the citizens, thus it is necessary to develop systems for the effective control of dosimetric levels of population exposure. In the CTB we have developed an environmental dosimetry system consisting of a large number of stations situated on housing, which allows real-time monitoring of emission levels captured by these stations, which are sent to a data center to charting the electromagnetic radiation in a bandwidth of 500 MHz to 6 GHz in near real time, with a sampling frequency lower than the second. This research project was carried out through a collaboration agreement with the municipality of Leganes (Madrid). We are currently developing personal dosimetry systems in order to control the rate of radiation received during the day and make correlations with potential pathologies.


  • Bioelectromagnetism
  • Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience
  • Neuroimaging


 Contact: Ceferino Maestú Unturbe

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