PCB 126 and other dioxin-like PCBs specifically suppress hepatic PEPCK expression via the aryl hydrocarbon receptor

PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37103. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037103. Epub 2012 May 16.


Dioxins and dioxin-like compounds encompass a group of structurally related heterocyclic compounds that bind to and activate the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). The prototypical dioxin is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), a highly toxic industrial byproduct that incites numerous adverse physiological effects. Global commercial production of the structurally similar polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), however, commenced early in the 20(th) century and continued for decades; dioxin-like PCBs therefore contribute significantly to total dioxin-associated toxicity. In this study, PCB 126, the most potent dioxin-like PCB, was evaluated with respect to its direct effects on hepatic glucose metabolism using primary mouse hepatocytes. Overnight treatment with PCB 126 reduced hepatic glycogen stores in a dose-dependent manner. Additionally, PCB 126 suppressed forskolin-stimulated gluconeogenesis from lactate. These effects were independent of acute toxicity, as PCB 126 did not increase lactate dehydrogenase release nor affect lipid metabolism or total intracellular ATP. Interestingly, provision of cells with glycerol instead of lactate as the carbon source completely restored hepatic glucose production, indicating specific impairment in the distal arm of gluconeogenesis. In concordance with this finding, PCB 126 blunted the forskolin-stimulated increase in phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK) mRNA levels without affecting glucose-6-phosphatase expression. Myricetin, a putative competitive AhR antagonist, reversed the suppression of PEPCK induction by PCB 126. Furthermore, other dioxin-like PCBs demonstrated similar effects on PEPCK expression in parallel with their ability to activate AhR. It therefore appears that AhR activation mediates the suppression of PEPCK expression by dioxin-like PCBs, suggesting a role for these pollutants as disruptors of energy metabolism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Dioxins / toxicity*
  • Flavonoids / toxicity
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Gluconeogenesis / drug effects
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Glucose-6-Phosphatase / metabolism
  • Glycogen / metabolism
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxylase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxylase / biosynthesis*
  • Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxylase / genetics
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity*
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / metabolism


  • Dioxins
  • Flavonoids
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • Lactic Acid
  • myricetin
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Glycogen
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase
  • Glucose-6-Phosphatase
  • Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxylase
  • Glucose
  • 3,4,5,3',4'-pentachlorobiphenyl