Thresholds and mechanisms of human magnetophosphene perception induced by low frequency sinusoidal magnetic fields

Alexandre Legros*, Janita Nissi, Ilkka Laakso, Joan Duprez, Robert Kavet, Julien Modolo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Background: Virtually everyone is exposed to power-frequency MF (50/60 Hz), inducing in our body electric fields and currents, potentially modulating brain function. MF-induced electric fields within the central nervous system can generate flickering visual perceptions (magnetophosphenes), which form the basis of international MF exposure guidelines and recommendations protecting workers and the general public. However, magnetophosphene perception thresholds were estimated 40 years ago in a small, unreplicated study with significant uncertainties and leaving open the question of the involved interaction site. Methods: We used a stimulation modality termed transcranial alternating magnetic stimulation (tAMS), delivering in situ sinusoidal electric fields comparable to transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS). Magnetophosphene perception was quantified in 81 volunteers exposed to MF (eye or occipital exposure) between 0 and 50 mT at frequencies of 20, 50, 60 and 100 Hz. Results: Reliable magnetophosphene perception was induced with tAMS without any scalp sensation, a major advantage as compared to tACS. Frequency-dependent thresholds were quantified using binary logistic regressions hence allowing to establish condition dependent probabilities of perception. Results support an interaction between induced current density and retinal rod cells. Conclusion: Beyond fundamental and immediate implications for international safety guidelines, and for identifying the interaction site underlying phosphene perception (ubiquitous in tACS experiments), our results support exploring the potential of tAMS for the differential diagnosis of retinal disorders and neuromodulation therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)668-675
Number of pages8
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2024
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Electroencephalography
  • Extremely low-frequency magnetic fields
  • Human
  • Magnetophosphenes
  • Power-line frequency magnetic fields


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