Di-(2-ethylhexyl)-phthalate induces apoptosis via the PPARγ/PTEN/AKT pathway in differentiated human embryonic stem cells

Food Chem Toxicol. 2019 Sep:131:110552. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2019.05.060. Epub 2019 Jun 1.


[OBJECTIVE]: Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), a widely used plasticizer, may act as an endocrine disruptor and cause developmental toxicity. Differentiated human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) were used to investigate the underlying mechanism of the embryotoxicity induced by DEHP. [Materials and Methods] H9-hESCs were treated with DEHP at different concentrations for 10 days, and the cytotoxicity of DEHP on cell proliferation was determined using a cell-microelectronic sensing technique (Real-Time Cellular Analysis: RTCA). Based on the 50% inhibitory proliferation concentration (IC50), differentiated H9-hESCs were treated with DEHP at 0, 50, 100, and 200 μg/ml for 120 h, followed by measurement of its toxic effects on the transcriptome by mRNA microarray and QuantiGene Plex (QGP). Proteins were detected by the iTRAQ-based proteomics method and the proteins related to the PPARγ/PTEN/Akt pathways were measured by western blotting. The progression of the cell cycle and apoptosis were characterized using flow cytometry (FCM). In other experiments, hESCs were pre-treated with GW9662 (20 μM), a specific PPARγ inhibitor, for 30 min, followed by exposure to GW9662 (20 μM) and DEHP (200 μg/ml) for 120 h to observe the underlying mechanism of DEHP's embryotoxicity. [RESULTS]: DEHP inhibited H9-hESC cell proliferation in a dose-dependent manner, with an IC50 of 165.78 μg/ml. FCM results showed that DEHP could markedly induce cell cycle arrest and increase apoptosis. Gene microarray and QPG array analyses indicated that the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ) was an apparent target for DEHP. We further demonstrated that DEHP could activate the PPARγ and upregulate the expression of PTEN downstream genes, and then play a negative role in the AKT signaling pathway. Cells pretreated with PPARγ inhibitor, GW9662, were shown to restore the effect of DEHP on the PPARγ/PTEN/AKT signaling pathway, and induce the recovery of cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. [CONCLUSION]: DEHP inhibited cell proliferation, promoted cell cycle arrest, and induced apoptosis through the PPARγ/PTEN/AKT signaling pathway in differentiated human embryonic stem cells. It suggested that DEHP exposure possibly cause reproductive or developmental toxicity in humans through the PPARγ signaling pathway.

Keywords: DEHP; Embryotoxicity; PPARγ receptor; PPARγ/PTEN/AKT signaling pathway; hESC.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cattle
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Diethylhexyl Phthalate / toxicity*
  • Emulsions / chemical synthesis
  • Emulsions / chemistry
  • Endocrine Disruptors / toxicity*
  • Human Embryonic Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • PPAR gamma / metabolism
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / metabolism
  • Plasticizers / toxicity
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism
  • S Phase Cell Cycle Checkpoints / drug effects
  • Serum Albumin, Bovine / chemistry
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Teratogens / toxicity


  • Emulsions
  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • PPAR gamma
  • Plasticizers
  • Teratogens
  • Serum Albumin, Bovine
  • Diethylhexyl Phthalate
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase
  • PTEN protein, human