Identification of metabolic profiles associated with human exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances

J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2019 Mar;29(2):196-205. doi: 10.1038/s41370-018-0060-y. Epub 2018 Sep 5.


Recent epidemiological studies suggest that human exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) may be associated with type 2 diabetes and other metabolic phenotypes. To gain further insights regarding PFASs exposure in humans, we here aimed to characterize the associations between different PFASs and the metabolome. In this cross-sectional study, we investigated 965 individuals from Sweden (all aged 70 years, 50% women) sampled in 2001-2004. PFASs were analyzed in plasma using isotope-dilution ultra-pressure liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (UPLC-MS/MS). Non-target metabolomics profiling was performed in plasma using UPLC coupled to time-of-flight mass spectrometry (UPLC-QTOFMS) operated in positive electrospray mode. Multivariate linear regression analysis was used to investigate associations between circulating levels of PFASs and metabolites. In total, 15 metabolites, predominantly from lipid pathways, were associated with levels of PFASs following adjustment for sex, smoking, exercise habits, education, energy, and alcohol intake, after correction for multiple testing. Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) and perfluoroundecanoic acid (PFUnDA) were strongly associated with multiple glycerophosphocholines and fatty acids including docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). We also found that the different PFASs evaluated were associated with distinctive metabolic profiles, suggesting potentially different biochemical pathways in humans.

Keywords: Epidemiology; Metabolomics; PFOA; PFOS; Perfluoroalkyl substances; XCMS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alkanesulfonic Acids / blood*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Fatty Acids / blood*
  • Female
  • Fluorocarbons / blood*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolome
  • Sweden
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Alkanesulfonic Acids
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fluorocarbons
  • perfluoroundecanoic acid