The role of polycarbonate monomer bisphenol-A in insulin resistance

PeerJ. 2017 Sep 13;5:e3809. doi: 10.7717/peerj.3809. eCollection 2017.


Bisphenol A (BPA) is a synthetic unit of polycarbonate polymers and epoxy resins, the types of plastics that could be found in essentially every human population and incorporated into almost every aspect of the modern human society. BPA polymers appear in a wide range of products, from liquid storages (plastic bottles, can and glass linings, water pipes and tanks) and food storages (plastics wraps and containers), to medical and dental devices. BPA polymers could be hydrolyzed spontaneously or in a photo- or temperature-catalyzed process, providing widespread environmental distribution and chronic exposure to the BPA monomer in contemporary human populations. Bisphenol A is also a xenoestrogen, an endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) that interferes with the endocrine system mimicking the effects of an estrogen and could potentially keep our endocrine system in a constant perturbation that parallels endocrine disruption arising during pregnancy, such as insulin resistance (IR). Gestational insulin resistance represents a natural biological phenomenon of higher insulin resistance in peripheral tissues of the pregnant females, when nutrients are increasingly being directed to the embryo instead of being stored in peripheral tissues. Gestational diabetes mellitus may appear in healthy non-diabetic females, due to gestational insulin resistance that leads to increased blood sugar levels and hyperinsulinemia (increased insulin production from the pancreatic beta cells). The hypothesis states that unnoticed and constant exposure to this environmental chemical might potentially lead to the formation of chronic low-level endocrine disruptive state that resembles gestational insulin resistance, which might contribute to the development of diabetes. The increasing body of evidence supports the major premises of this hypothesis, as exemplified by the numerous publications examining the association of BPA and insulin resistance, both epidemiological and mechanistic. However, to what extent BPA might contribute to the development of diabetes in the modern societies still remains unknown. In this review, I discuss the chemical properties of BPA and the sources of BPA contamination found in the environment and in human tissues. I provide an overview of mechanisms for the proposed role of bisphenol A in insulin resistance and diabetes, as well as other related diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases. I describe the transmission of BPA effects to the offspring and postulate that gender related differences might originate from differences in liver enzyme levels, such as UDP-glucuronosyltransferase, which is involved in BPA processing and its elimination from the organism. I discuss the molecular mechanisms of BPA action through nuclear and membrane-bound ER receptors, non-monotonic dose response, epigenetic modifications of the DNA and propose that chronic exposure to weak binders, such as BPA, may mimic the effects of strong binders, such as estrogens.

Keywords: BPA; Bisphenol-A; Diabetes; Endocrine disrupting chemicals; Epigenetic modifications; Insulin resistance; Non-monotonic dose response; Polycarbonate polymers.

Grant support

The author received no funding for this work.