The biological effects of electric and magnetic fields, which are ubiquitous in modern society, remain poorly understood. Here, we applied a single-cell approach to study the effects of short-term exposure to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMFs) on muscle cell differentiation and function using C2C12 cells as an in vitro model of the skeletal muscle phenotype. Our focus was on markers of oxidative stress and calcium (Ca2+) handling, two interrelated cellular processes previously shown to be affected by such radiation in other cell models. Collectively, our data reveal that ELF-EMFs (1) induced reactive oxygen species production in myoblasts and myotubes with a concomitant decrease in mitochondrial membrane potential; (2) activated the cellular detoxification system, increasing catalase and glutathione peroxidase activities; and (3) altered intracellular Ca2+ homeostasis, increasing the spontaneous activity of myotubes and enhancing cellular reactivity to a depolarizing agent (KCl) or an agonist (caffeine) of intracellular store Ca2+ channels. In conclusion, our data support a possible link between exposure to ELF-EMFs and modification of the cellular redox state, which could, in turn, increase the level of intracellular Ca2+ and thus modulate the metabolic activity of C2C12 cells.
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