Inveterate cell-phone addicts may feel that the devices help them to work smarter, and -- surprisingly -- they may be right.
If they're mice, that is.
In mice prone to an animal form of Alzheimer's disease, long-term exposure to electromagnetic radiation typical of cell phones slowed and reversed the course of the illness, according to Gary Arendash of the University of South Florida in Tampa and colleagues.
A similar exposure in normal mice -- for two hours a day over seven to nine months -- improved their cognitive abilities compared with controls, Arendash and colleagues said in the January issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, which is the research journal of the Alzheimer's Association.
The findings provide "striking evidence for both protective and disease-reversing effects" of long-term exposure to radiation at cell phone levels, Arendash and colleagues said.
But outside experts cautioned that the science in the study -- while mainstream -- is still very early.
"You just have to remember where you are in the mainstream -- right up at the head of it," said Bill Thies, chief medical and science officer of the Alzheimer's Association.
Thies told MedPage Today that the research needs to be repeated and confirmed, and various aspects of it need more study, before it's ready for prime time.
"This is no call for anyone to self-medicate," Thies said.
Other reactions to the study ranged from "interesting" to "nonsense."
Neurologist Dr. Alan Lerner of Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, said in an email the researchers took an "an innovative approach to modulating Alzheimer's disease models in mice."
But he said it's too early to say whether the finding have any relevance to humans.
Dr. Roger Brumback of Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. cautioned that even science published in reputable journals can turn out to be wrong, adding "extreme caution is necessary until this outcome has been confirmed independently in other laboratories."
Moreover, he said in an email, even if the science is correct, "humans are not just big mice, and we must always be cautious in extrapolating results from mice to man."
Zaven Khachaturian, editor of Alzheimer's & Dementia, responded even more bluntly: "This is nonsense."
In an email, Khachaturian said, "It is a mice study and there are number of other secondary factors [other than radio signals from cell phones] that could account for the results."
Arendash and colleagues said in the journal they had expected to find cognitive function worsened in the mice exposed to radiation, likely as a result of oxidative stress in the brain.
Instead, "it surprised us to find that cell phone exposure, begun in early adulthood, protects the memory of mice otherwise destined to develop Alzheimer's symptoms," Arendash said in a statement.
"It was even more astonishing that the electromagnetic waves generated by cell phones actually reversed memory impairment in old Alzheimer's mice," he said.
The report comes almost exactly two years after researchers at the University of Sunderland, in England, said they had shown that infrared light could improve cognition in mice.
That report led to the development of the so-called "Alzheimer's helmet," aimed at slowing or reversing the disease in humans. Whether that works has not been shown yet.