Toxicological function of adipose tissue: focus on persistent organic pollutants

Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Feb;121(2):162-9. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1205485. Epub 2012 Dec 5.


Background: Adipose tissue (AT) is involved in several physiological functions, including metabolic regulation, energy storage, and endocrine functions.

Objectives: In this review we examined the evidence that an additional function of AT is to modulate persistent organic pollutant (POP) toxicity through several mechanisms.

Methods: We reviewed the literature on the interaction of AT with POPs to provide a comprehensive model for this additional function of AT.

Discussion: As a storage compartment for lipophilic POPs, AT plays a critical role in the toxicokinetics of a variety of drugs and pollutants, in particular, POPs. By sequestering POPs, AT can protect other organs and tissues from POPs overload. However, this protective function could prove to be a threat in the long run. The accumulation of lipophilic POPs will increase total body burden. These accumulated POPs are slowly released into the bloodstream, and more so during weight loss. Thus, AT constitutes a continual source of internal exposure to POPs. In addition to its buffering function, AT is also a target of POPs and may mediate part of their metabolic effects. This is particularly relevant because many POPs induce obesogenic effects that may lead to quantitative and qualitative alterations of AT. Some POPs also induce a proinflammatory state in AT, which may lead to detrimental metabolic effects.

Conclusion: AT appears to play diverse functions both as a modulator and as a target of POPs toxicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / drug effects*
  • Adipose Tissue / physiology
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Organic Chemicals / toxicity*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Organic Chemicals