Persistent organic pollutant levels in human visceral and subcutaneous adipose tissue in obese individuals--depot differences and dysmetabolism implications

Environ Res. 2014 Aug:133:170-7. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2014.05.026. Epub 2014 Jun 18.


Background: The role of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) with endocrine disrupting activity in the aetiology of obesity and other metabolic dysfunctions has been recently highlighted. Adipose tissue (AT) is a common site of POPs accumulation where they can induce adverse effects on human health.

Objectives: To evaluate the presence of POPs in human visceral (vAT) and subcutaneous (scAT) adipose tissue in a sample of Portuguese obese patients that underwent bariatric surgery, and assess their putative association with metabolic disruption preoperatively, as well as with subsequent body mass index (BMI) reduction.

Methods: AT samples (n=189) from obese patients (BMI ≥ 35) were collected and the levels of 13 POPs were determined by gas chromatography with electron-capture detection (GC-ECD). Anthropometric and biochemical data were collected at the time of surgery. BMI variation was evaluated after 12 months and adipocyte size was measured in AT samples.

Results: Our data confirm that POPs are pervasive in this obese population (96.3% of detection on both tissues), their abundance increasing with age (RS=0.310, p<0.01) and duration of obesity (RS=0.170, p<0.05). We observed a difference in AT depot POPs storage capability, with higher levels of ΣPOPs in vAT (213.9 ± 204.2 compared to 155.1 ± 147.4 ng/g of fat, p<0.001), extremely relevant when evaluating their metabolic impact. Furthermore, there was a positive correlation between POP levels and the presence of metabolic syndrome components, namely dysglycaemia and hypertension, and more importantly with cardiovascular risk (RS=0.277, p<0.01), with relevance for vAT (RS=0.315, p<0.01). Finally, we observed an interesting relation of higher POP levels with lower weight loss in older patients.

Conclusion: Our sample of obese subjects allowed us to highlight the importance of POPs stored in AT on the development of metabolic dysfunction in a context of obesity, shifting the focus to their metabolic effects and not only for their recognition as environmental obesogens.

Keywords: Adipose tissue; Bariatric surgery; Metabolic syndrome; Obesity; Persistent organic pollutants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Comorbidity
  • Endocrine Disruptors / adverse effects
  • Endocrine Disruptors / analysis
  • Endocrine Disruptors / metabolism*
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / chemistry
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome / chemically induced
  • Metabolic Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / chemically induced
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Portugal / epidemiology
  • Subcutaneous Fat, Abdominal / chemistry
  • Subcutaneous Fat, Abdominal / metabolism*
  • Weight Loss
  • Young Adult


  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Environmental Pollutants