Effects of Arsenite Exposure during Fetal Development on Energy Metabolism and Susceptibility to Diet-Induced Fatty Liver Disease in Male Mice

Environ Health Perspect. 2016 Feb;124(2):201-9. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1409501. Epub 2015 Jul 7.


Background: Chronic exposure to arsenicals at various life stages and across a range of exposures has been implicated in cardiometabolic and liver disease, but disease predisposition from developmental exposures remains unclear.

Objectives: In utero and post-weaning exposure to trivalent arsenic (AsIII) was examined on the background of a Western-style diet to determine whether AsIII exposure affects metabolic disease.

Methods: Male Swiss Webster mice were exposed to 100 ppb AsIII in utero, after weaning, or both. Ad libitum access to a Western-style diet was provided after weaning, and the plasma metabolome, liver histopathology, liver enzyme activity, and gene expression were analyzed.

Results: Hepatic lipid composition and histopathology revealed that developmental AsIII exposure exacerbated Western-style diet-induced fatty liver disease. Continuous AsIII exposure increased cardiometabolic risk factors including increased body weight, insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, and plasma triglycerides. AsIII exposure produced a decrease in the intermediates of glycolysis and the TCA cycle while increasing ketones. Hepatic isocitrate dehydrogenase activity was also decreased, which confirmed disruption of the TCA cycle. Developmental AsIII exposure increased the expression of genes involved in fatty acid synthesis, lipogenesis, inflammation, and packaging of triglycerides, suggesting an increased acetyl coenzyme A (acetyl-CoA) load.

Conclusions: In utero and continuous early-life exposure to AsIII disrupted normal metabolism and elevated the risk for fatty liver disease in mice maintained on a high-fat diet. Our findings suggest that individuals exposed to AsIII during key developmental periods and who remain exposed to AsIII on the background of a Western-style diet may be at increased risk for metabolic disease later in life.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arsenites / toxicity*
  • Diet, Western / adverse effects*
  • Disease Susceptibility / epidemiology*
  • Disease Susceptibility / etiology
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Fatty Liver / epidemiology*
  • Fatty Liver / etiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Metabolic Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Metabolic Diseases / etiology
  • Mice
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / metabolism*


  • Arsenites