Dysregulated lipid and fatty acid metabolism link perfluoroalkyl substances exposure and impaired glucose metabolism in young adults

Environ Int. 2020 Dec:145:106091. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2020.106091. Epub 2020 Sep 3.


Background: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) exposure is ubiquitous among the US population and has been linked to adverse health outcomes including cardiometabolic diseases, immune dysregulation and endocrine disruption. However, the metabolic mechanism underlying the adverse health effect of PFASs exposure is unknown.

Objective: The aim of this project is to investigate the association between PFASs exposure and altered metabolic pathways linked to increased cardiometabolic risk in young adults.

Methods: A total of 102 young adults with 82% overweight or obese participants were enrolled from Southern California between 2014 and 2017. Cardiometabolic outcomes were assessed including oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) measures, body fat and lipid profiles. High-resolution metabolomics was used to quantify plasma exposure levels of three PFAS congeners and intensity profiles of the untargeted metabolome. Fasting concentrations of 45 targeted metabolites involved in fatty acid and lipid metabolism were used to verify untargeted metabolomics findings. Bayesian Kernel Machine Regression (BKMR) was used to examine the associations between PFAS exposure mixture and cardiometabolic outcomes adjusting for covariates. Mummichog pathway enrichment analysis was used to explore PFAS-associated metabolic pathways. Moreover, the effect of PFAS exposure on the metabolic network, including metabolomic profiles and cardiometabolic outcomes, was investigated.

Results: Higher exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was associated with higher 30-minute glucose levels and glucose area under the curve (AUC) during the OGTT (p < 0.001). PFAS exposure was also associated with altered lipid pathways, which contributed to the metabolic network connecting PFOA and higher glucose levels following the OGTT. Targeted metabolomics analysis indicated that higher PFOA exposure was associated with higher levels of glycerol (p = 0.006), which itself was associated with higher 30-minute glucose (p = 0.006).

Conclusions: Increased lipolysis and fatty acid oxidation could contribute to the biological mechanisms linking PFAS exposure and impaired glucose metabolism among young adults. Findings of this study warrants future experimental studies and epidemiological studies with larger sample size to replicate.

Keywords: Cardiometabolic dysfunction; Lipolysis; Metabolomics; Perfluoroalkyl substances; Young adults; β-oxidation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alkanesulfonic Acids*
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Environmental Pollutants* / toxicity
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fluorocarbons* / toxicity
  • Glucose
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Lipids
  • Young Adult


  • Alkanesulfonic Acids
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fluorocarbons
  • Lipids
  • Glucose