Environmental endocrine disruptors promote adipogenesis in the 3T3-L1 cell line through glucocorticoid receptor activation

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Jul;18(7):1283-8. doi: 10.1038/oby.2009.419. Epub 2009 Nov 19.


The burgeoning obesity and diabetes epidemics threaten health worldwide, yet the molecular mechanisms underlying these phenomena are incompletely understood. Recently, attention has focused on the potential contributions of environmental pollutants that act as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the pathogenesis of metabolic diseases. Because glucocorticoid signaling is central to adipocyte differentiation, the ability of EDCs to stimulate the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and drive adipogenesis was assessed in the 3T3-L1 cell line. Various EDCs were screened for glucocorticoid-like activity using a luciferase reporter construct, and four (bisphenol A (BPA), dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP), endrin, and tolylfluanid (TF)) were shown to significantly stimulate GR without significant activation of the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma. 3T3-L1 preadipocytes were then treated with EDCs and a weak differentiation cocktail containing dehydrocorticosterone (DHC) in place of the synthetic dexamethasone. The capacity of these compounds to promote adipogenesis was assessed by quantitative oil red O staining and immunoblotting for adipocyte-specific proteins. The four EDCs increased lipid accumulation in the differentiating adipocytes and also upregulated the expression of adipocytic proteins. Interestingly, proadipogenic effects were observed at picomolar concentrations for several of the EDCs. Because there was no detectable adipogenesis when the preadipocytes were treated with compounds alone, the EDCs are likely promoting adipocyte differentiation by synergizing with agents present in the differentiation cocktail. Thus, EDCs are able to promote adipogenesis through the activation of the GR, further implicating these compounds in the rising rates of obesity and diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • 3T3-L1 Cells
  • Adipocytes / drug effects
  • Adipocytes / physiology*
  • Adipogenesis / drug effects
  • Adipogenesis / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Benzhydryl Compounds
  • Blood Proteins / pharmacology
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Cell Nucleus / physiology
  • Endocrine System / physiology*
  • Endrin / pharmacology
  • Environment
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Genetic Testing
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects
  • Lipid Metabolism / physiology
  • Luciferases / genetics
  • Mice
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Phenols / pharmacology
  • Phthalic Acids / pharmacology
  • Prednisone / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / genetics*
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / physiology


  • Benzhydryl Compounds
  • Blood Proteins
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Phenols
  • Phthalic Acids
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • dicyclohexyl phthalate
  • Luciferases
  • bisphenol A
  • Endrin
  • Prednisone