Alterations in the programming of energy metabolism in adolescents with background exposure to dioxins, dl-PCBs and PBDEs

PLoS One. 2017 Sep 12;12(9):e0184006. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184006. eCollection 2017.


Objectives: Dioxins and PCBs are highly toxic and persistent environmental pollutants that are measurable in humans worldwide. These persistent organic pollutants are associated with a higher incidence of diabetes mellitus. We hypothesise that perinatal (background) exposure to industrial pollutants like dioxins also influences body mass development and energy metabolism in later life.

Study design: In The Netherlands, the perinatal exposure (prenatal exposure and postnatal lactational intake) to dioxins has been studied prospectively since 1987. Fasting glucose, insulin, HbA1c and leptin were analysed in 33 children of the original cohort of 60. BMI, glucose:insulin and BMI:leptin ratios were calculated. Prenatal exposure, lactational intake and current serum levels of dioxins (PCDD/F), dl-PCBs and PBDE concentrations were determined using (HR)GC-MS.

Results: Prenatal dioxin (PCDD/F) exposure was positively correlated to the glucose:insulin ratio (p = 0.024) and negatively correlated to the fasting insulin concentration (p = 0.017) in adolescence. Postnatal lactational PCDD/F intake was also negatively correlated to fasting insulin concentration (p = 0.028). Current serum levels of PCDD/Fs and total TEQ (dl-PCBs+PCDD/Fs) were positively correlated to the fasting serum glucose concentration (p = 0.015 and p = 0.037, respectively).No metabolic effects were seen in association with current serum levels of PBDEs. A positive correlation between the insulin and leptin concentrations (p = 0.034) was observed. No effects were found on leptin levels, BMI:leptin ratio, HbA1c levels or BMI.

Discussion/conclusion: This study indicates that prenatal and lactational exposure influences glucose metabolism in adolescents, presumably through a negative effect on insulin secretion by pancreatic beta cells. Additionally, the very low recent background exposure to dioxins in puberty possibly has an effect on the glucose level.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomarkers
  • Blood Glucose
  • Body Mass Index
  • Dioxins / blood
  • Dioxins / toxicity*
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity
  • Female
  • Glycated Hemoglobin
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Leptin / blood
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Netherlands
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / blood
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / blood
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / toxicity
  • Pregnancy
  • Puberty / drug effects
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • Blood Glucose
  • Dioxins
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • Insulin
  • Leptin
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins
  • hemoglobin A1c protein, human
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls

Grants and funding

The study was financially supported by the Netherlands Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment. The paper was supported by E.C. grant: OBELIX nr: 227391.