Association of polybrominated diphenyl ethers in two fat compartments with increased risk of insulin resistance in obese individuals

Chemosphere. 2018 Oct:209:268-276. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2018.06.108. Epub 2018 Jun 18.


Background: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a widely utilized class of flame retardants in various commercial products, represent a prominent source of environmental contaminants. PBDEs tend to accumulate in adipose tissue, potentially altering the function of this endocrine organ and increasing risk of insulin resistance. The aim of this study was to compare levels of PBDEs in adipose tissues from two metabolically distinct obese groups; the insulin sensitive (IS) and the insulin resistant (IR).

Methods: Levels of 28 PBDE congeners were assessed in subcutaneous and omental adipose tissues from 34 obese Qatari individuals (11 IS and 23 IR) using gas chromatography (Trace GC Ultra) coupled to a TSQ Quantum triple Quadrupole mass spectrometer. Correlations of identified PBDEs and mediators of metabolic disease were established and effects of PBDEs treatment on insulin signaling in primary omental preadipocytes were determined.

Results: Out of 22 detectable PBDEs in subcutaneous and omental adipose tissues, PBDEs 28, 47, 99 and 153 were predominant in omental adipose tissues from obese Qatari subjects. PBDEs 99, 28, and 47 were significantly higher in IR individuals compared to their IS counterparts. Significant positive correlations were identified between PBDEs 28 and 99 in the omental tissues and with fasting insulin levels. When considering PBDEs congeners, penta congeners were also higher in IR compared to IS individuals, while no significant differences were detected in mono, tri, tertra, hexa, hepta and octa congeners between the two studied groups. Treatment of human omental preadipocytes from insulin sensitive individuals with PBDE28 caused inhibition of phosphorylation of GSK3 α/β (Ser21/Ser9), mTOR (Ser2448), p70 S6 kinase (Thr389) and S6 ribosomal protein (Ser235/Ser236) and activation of PTEN (Ser380) phosphorylation, suggesting inhibition of insulin signaling.

Conclusion: This pilot data suggests that accumulation of specific PBDEs in human adipose tissues is associated with insulin resistance in obese individuals. Further investigation of the functional role of PBDEs in the pathology of insulin resistance should help developing therapeutic strategies targeting obese individuals at higher risk.

Keywords: Adipose tissue; Endocrine-disrupting compounds; Insulin resistance; Insulin sensitivity; Obesity; Polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / chemistry
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Flame Retardants / analysis
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls / analysis
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis
  • Risk


  • Flame Retardants
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls