Long-term dietary administration of diethyl phthalate triggers loss of insulin sensitivity in two key insulin target tissues of mice

Hum Exp Toxicol. 2020 Jul;39(7):984-993. doi: 10.1177/0960327120909526. Epub 2020 Mar 4.


Over the past years, a growing body of work has linked numerous pervasive environmental chemicals with a multitude of adverse reproductive, developmental, behavioral, and metabolic changes in humans and animal models. Plasticizers include a wide variety of phthalate esters that are extensively used in a host of personal day care and cosmetic products. Many population-based studies have indicated a close association between diethyl phthalate (DEP) and diabetes albeit the mechanisms remain much unexplored. Presently, we report that long-term dietary administration of DEP to adult male Swiss albino mice at two different concentrations mirroring the recommended tolerable doses, severely impaired insulin signaling in hepatocytes and adipocytes. This was concomitant with sustained oxidative stress from the overactivation of NADPH oxidase 2, a major intracellular source of reactive oxygen species, in both the cell types. The present study provides evidences of the onset of insulin resistance in mice after chronic exposure to DEP in diet even at lower levels. This, in turn, can have serious pathological consequences with ultimate manifestations of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (MetS). Thus, by disrupting the central metabolic function of liver and adipose tissue, the key insulin target tissues, daily exposure to phthalates in plastics can potentially contribute to the alarming prevalence of MetS in recent times.

Keywords: Diethyl phthalate; adipose tissue; diabetes; insulin resistance; liver; oxidative stress.

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / drug effects*
  • Adipocytes / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Diet
  • Glucose Transporter Type 4 / metabolism
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects*
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Phthalic Acids / toxicity*
  • Plasticizers / toxicity*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Glucose Transporter Type 4
  • Phthalic Acids
  • Plasticizers
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Slc2a4 protein, mouse
  • diethyl phthalate