Multiplicity of nuclear receptor activation by PFOA and PFOS in primary human and rodent hepatocytes

Toxicology. 2011 Oct 9;288(1-3):8-17. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2011.06.012. Epub 2011 Jun 23.


Perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) are surface active fluorochemicals that, due to their exceptional stability to degradation, are persistent in the environment. Both PFOA and PFOS are eliminated slowly in humans, with geometric mean serum elimination half-lives estimated at 3.5 and 4.8 years, respectively. The biological activity of PFOA and PFOS in rodents is attributed primarily to transactivation of the nuclear receptor peroxisome proliferator activated receptor alpha (PPARA), which is an important regulator of lipid and carbohydrate metabolism. However, there are significant species-specific differences in the response to PFOA and PFOS exposure; non-rodent species, including humans, are refractory to several but not all of these effects. Many of the metabolic effects have been attributed to the activation of PPARA; however, recent studies using PPARα knockout mice demonstrate residual PPARA-independent effects, some of which may involve the activation of alternate nuclear receptors, including NR1I2 (PXR), NR1I3 (CAR), NR1H3 (LXRA), and NR1H4 (FXR). The objective of this investigation was to characterize the activation of multiple nuclear receptors and modulation of metabolic pathways associated with exposure to PFOA and PFOS, and to compare and contrast the effects between rat and human primary liver cells using quantitative reverse transcription PCR (RT-qPCR). Our results demonstrate that multiple nuclear receptors participate in the metabolic response to PFOA and PFOS exposure resulting in a substantial shift from carbohydrate metabolism to fatty acid oxidation and hepatic triglyceride accumulation in rat liver cells. This shift in intermediary metabolism was more pronounced for PFOA than PFOS. Furthermore, while there is some similarity in the activation of metabolic pathways between rat and humans, particularly in PPARA regulated responses; the changes in primary human cells were more subtle and possibly reflect an adaptive metabolic response rather than an overt metabolic regulation observed in rodents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkanesulfonic Acids / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Caprylates / toxicity*
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism / drug effects
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Fluorocarbons / toxicity*
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects*
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Oxidation-Reduction / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Species Specificity
  • Triglycerides / metabolism


  • Alkanesulfonic Acids
  • Caprylates
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fluorocarbons
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Triglycerides
  • perfluorooctanoic acid
  • perfluorooctane sulfonic acid