Open Access Research article

Pulsed electromagnetic fields stimulation prevents steroid-induced osteonecrosis in rats

Shuai Ding, Hao Peng*, Hong-Song Fang, Jian-Lin Zhou and Zhe Wang

Author Affiliations

Department of Orthopedics, Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University, Wuhan 430060, Hubei Province, People's Republic of China

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2011, 12:215  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-12-215

Published: 29 September 2011



Pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) stimulation has been used successfully to treat nonunion fractures and femoral head osteonecrosis, but relatively little is known about its effects on preventing steroid-induced osteonecrosis. The purpose of the study was to investigate the effects of PEMF stimulation on the prevention of steroid-induced osteonecrosis in rats and explore the underlying mechanisms.


Seventy-two male adult Wistar rats were divided into three groups and treated as follows. (1) PEMF stimulation group (PEMF group, n = 24): intravenously injected with lipopolysaccharide (LPS, 10 μg/kg) on day 0 and intramuscularly injected with methylprednisolone acetate (MPSL, 20 mg/kg) on days 1, 2 and 3, then subjected to PEMF stimulation 4 h per day for 1 to 8 weeks. (2) Methylprednisolone-treated group (MPSL group, n = 24): injected the same dose of LPS and MPSL as the PEMF group but without exposure to PEMF. (3) Control group (PS group, n = 24): injected 0.9% saline in the same mode at the same time points. The incidence of osteonecrosis, serum lipid levels and the mRNA and protein expression of transforming growth factor β1 (TGF-β1) in the proximal femur were measured 1, 2, 4 and 8 weeks after the last MPSL (or saline) injection.


The incidence of osteonecrosis in the PEMF group (29%) was significantly lower than that observed in the MPSL group (75%), while no osteonecrosis was observed in the PS group. The serum lipid levels were significantly lower in the PEMF and PS groups than in the MPSL group. Compared with the MPSL and PS groups, the mRNA expression of TGF-β1 increased, reaching a peak 1 week after PEMF treatment, and remained high for 4 weeks, then declined at 8 weeks, whereas the protein expression of TGF-β1 increased, reaching a peak at 2 weeks after PEMF treatment, and remained high for 8 weeks.


PEMF stimulation can prevent steroid-induced osteonecrosis in rats, and the underlying mechanisms involve decreased serum lipid levels and increased expression of TGF-β1.