Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions worldwide, and is associated with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and dyslipidemias (metabolic syndrome). Commonly held causes of obesity are overeating coupled with a sedentary lifestyle. However, it has also been postulated that exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) may be related to the significant increase in the prevalence of obesity and associated diseases. In the present study, developmental and reproductive effects of lifelong exposure to environmentally relevant concentrations of two natural mixtures of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) were investigated using classical and molecular methods in a controlled zebrafish model. The mixtures used were extracted from burbot (Lota lota) liver originating from freshwater systems in Norway (Lake Mjøsa and Lake Losna). The concentration of POPs in the zebrafish ranged from levels detected in wild fish (Lake Mjøsa and Lake Losna), to concentrations reported in human and wildlife populations. Phenotypic effects observed in both exposure groups included (1) earlier onset of puberty, (2) elevated male/female sex ratio, and (3) increased body weight at 5 months of age. Interestingly, genome-wide transcription profiling identified functional networks of genes, in which key regulators of weight homeostasis (PPARs, glucocoricoids, CEBPs, estradiol), steroid hormone functions (glucocoricoids, estradiol, NCOA3) and insulin signaling (HNF4A, CEBPs, PPARG) occupied central positions. The increased weight and the regulation of genes associated with weight homeostasis and insulin signaling observed in the present study suggest that environmental pollution may affect the endocrine regulation of the metabolism, possibly leading to increased weight gain and obesity.
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