A Systems Biology Approach Reveals Converging Molecular Mechanisms that Link Different POPs to Common Metabolic Diseases

Environ Health Perspect. 2016 Jul;124(7):1034-41. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1510308. Epub 2015 Dec 18.


Background: A number of epidemiological studies have identified statistical associations between persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and metabolic diseases, but testable hypotheses regarding underlying molecular mechanisms to explain these linkages have not been published.

Objectives: We assessed the underlying mechanisms of POPs that have been associated with metabolic diseases; three well-known POPs [2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), 2,2´,4,4´,5,5´-hexachlorobiphenyl (PCB 153), and 4,4´-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (p,p´-DDE)] were studied. We used advanced database search tools to delineate testable hypotheses and to guide laboratory-based research studies into underlying mechanisms by which this POP mixture could produce or exacerbate metabolic diseases.

Methods: For our searches, we used proprietary systems biology software (MetaCore™/MetaDrug™) to conduct advanced search queries for the underlying interactions database, followed by directional network construction to identify common mechanisms for these POPs within two or fewer interaction steps downstream of their primary targets. These common downstream pathways belong to various cytokine and chemokine families with experimentally well-documented causal associations with type 2 diabetes.

Conclusions: Our systems biology approach allowed identification of converging pathways leading to activation of common downstream targets. To our knowledge, this is the first study to propose an integrated global set of step-by-step molecular mechanisms for a combination of three common POPs using a systems biology approach, which may link POP exposure to diseases. Experimental evaluation of the proposed pathways may lead to development of predictive biomarkers of the effects of POPs, which could translate into disease prevention and effective clinical treatment strategies.

Citation: Ruiz P, Perlina A, Mumtaz M, Fowler BA. 2016. A systems biology approach reveals converging molecular mechanisms that link different POPs to common metabolic diseases. Environ Health Perspect 124:1034-1041; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1510308.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Metabolic Diseases / epidemiology
  • Organic Chemicals / toxicity*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity
  • Systems Biology*


  • Biomarkers
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • 2,4,5,2',4',5'-hexachlorobiphenyl