Effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) simulating exposure to the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) signals were studied using pluripotent embryonic stem (ES) cells in vitro. Wild-type ES cells and ES cells deficient for the tumor suppressor p53 were exposed to pulse modulated EMF at 1.71 GHz, lower end of the uplink band of GSM 1800, under standardized and controlled conditions, and transcripts of regulatory genes were analyzed during in vitro differentiation. Two dominant GSM modulation schemes (GSM-217 and GSM-Talk), which generate temporal changes between GSM-Basic (active during talking phases) and GSM-DTX (active during listening phases thus simulating a typical conversation), were applied to the cells at and below the basic safety limits for local exposures as defined for the general public by the International Commission on Nonionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). GSM-217 EMF induced a significant upregulation of mRNA levels of the heat shock protein, hsp70 of p53-deficient ES cells differentiating in vitro, paralleled by a low and transient increase of c-jun, c-myc, and p21 levels in p53-deficient, but not in wild-type cells. No responses were observed in either cell type after EMF exposure to GSM-Talk applied at similar slot-averaged specific absorption rates (SAR), but at lower time-averaged SAR values. Cardiac differentiation and cell cycle characteristics were not affected in embryonic stem and embryonic carcinoma cells after exposure to GSM-217 EMF signals. Our data indicate that the genetic background determines cellular responses to GSM modulated EMF.