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Researchers study Terahertz radiation's impact on cellular function and gene expression

Terahertz (THz) technologies show promise for myriad medical, military, security, and research applications ranging from the detection of cancer to airport security systems to shipment inspection to spectroscopy.

Relatively little is known, however, about the effect of THz radiation on biological systems. So a team of researchers, led by Los Alamos National Laboratory, evaluated the cellular response of mouse stem cells exposed to THz radiation. They applied low-power radiation both from a pulsed broadband (centered at 10 THz) source and from a continuous wave (CW) laser (2.52 THz) source, and applied both modeling and empirical characterization and monitoring techniques to minimize the impact of radiation-induced increases in temperature.

The researchers determined that temperature increases were minimal, and that heat shock protein expression was unaffected, while the expression of certain other genes showed clear effects of the THz irradiation. As the researchers describe in the September issue of the Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal Biomedical Optics Express, mouse mesenchymal stem cells exposed to THz radiation exhibit specific changes in cellular function closely related to the gene expression. They believe further investigations involving a large number of genes and variation in THz radiation characteristics and exposure duration are needed to generalize their findings. They also say that more direct experimental investigations of THz radiation's ability to induce specific openings of the DNA double strand are needed to fully determine how THz radiation may work through DNA dynamics to influence cellular function.

The team, led by Los Alamos National Lab, worked in collaboration with the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies, a U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences user facility at Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, and with Harvard Medical School, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Paper: "Non-thermal effects of terahertz radiation on gene expression in mouse stem cells," Biomedical Optics Express, Alexandrov et al., Volume 2, Issue 9, pp. 2679-2689.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This summary is part of OSA's monthly Biomedical Optics Express tip sheet. To subscribe, email or follow @OpticalSociety on Twitter. For images or interviews with authors, please contact Angela Stark, or 202.416.1443.

About Biomedical Optics Express

Biomedical Optics Express is OSA's principal outlet for serving the biomedical optics community with rapid, open-access, peer-reviewed papers related to optics, photonics and imaging in the life sciences. The journal scope encompasses theoretical modeling and simulations, technology development, and biomedical studies and clinical applications. It is published by the Optical Society and edited by Joseph A. Izatt of Duke University. Biomedical Optics Express is an open-access journal and is available at no cost to readers online at

About OSA

Uniting more than 106,000 professionals from 134 countries, the Optical Society (OSA) brings together the global optics community through its programs and initiatives. Since 1916 OSA has worked to advance the common interests of the field, providing educational resources to the scientists, engineers and business leaders who work in the field by promoting the science of light and the advanced technologies made possible by optics and photonics. OSA publications, events, technical groups and programs foster optics knowledge and scientific collaboration among all those with an interest in optics and photonics. For more information, visit

Angela Stark | EurekAlert!
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