Pivotal Role for the Visceral Fat Compartment in the Release of Persistent Organic Pollutants During Weight Loss

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015 Dec;100(12):4463-71. doi: 10.1210/jc.2015-2571. Epub 2015 Oct 15.


Context: Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), are implicated as potential endocrine disruptors and obesogens. These lipophilic substances are preferentially stored in the fat compartment and released into the circulation during weight loss.

Objective: The aim of this study was to examine the contribution of abdominal adiposity, and visceral adiposity in particular, to the increase of serum PCB levels during weight loss.

Materials and methods: Fourty-five obese women were prospectively recruited. Twenty individuals received dietary counseling and 25 underwent bariatric surgery. Anthropometric data were collected and intra-abdominal adiposity was assessed by measurement computed tomography scanning of the abdominal fat compartment, delineating the visceral and subcutaneous compartment. Serum levels of 27 PCBs were determined and the sum of all PCBs (ΣPCBs) calculated. Follow-up measurements of anthropometric data, computed tomography scanning, and PCB levels were performed after 6 months in all patients.

Results: In patients who lost weight, serum ΣPCB levels displayed an increase after 6 months of approximately 50%. Both correlation and regression analysis, focusing on the relative contribution of the visceral vs the subcutaneous fat compartment, suggested that the increase in ΣPCB serum levels after 6 months of weight loss was more pronounced in patients losing relatively more visceral adipose tissue. This trend could be established in the diet-treated, but not the surgery-treated subgroup.

Conclusion: Our study suggests that the contribution of PCBs released from the visceral fat compartment might be more pronounced compared with the subcutaneous fat compartment during weight loss. These findings are present in the entire study group whereas subanalysis of the diet vs surgery groups suggested the same effect in the diet group but failed to reach statistical significance in the surgery group. This suggests a possible weight-loss method-specific effect.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01778868.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Fat / metabolism*
  • Adiposity
  • Adult
  • Anthropometry
  • Bariatric Surgery
  • Body Mass Index
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / metabolism*
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / diet therapy
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / surgery
  • Overweight / diet therapy
  • Overweight / metabolism
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / blood
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / metabolism*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Subcutaneous Fat / metabolism
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Weight Loss*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01778868