Disruption of normal adipocyte development and function by methyl- and propyl- paraben exposure

Toxicol Lett. 2020 Nov 1;334:27-35. doi: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2020.09.009. Epub 2020 Sep 18.


Methyl- and propyl- parabens are generally regarded as safe by the U.S Food and Drug Administration and as such are commonly used in personal care products. These parabens have been associated with increased white adipogenesis in vitro and methyl paraben also increased the white adipose mass of mice. Given brown adipose also plays a role in energy balance, we sought to evaluate whether the effects of methyl- and propyl- parabens on white adipocytes extended to brown adipocytes. We challenged white and brown pre-adipocytes at low doses of both parabens (up to 1 μM) during the differentiation process and examined adipogenesis with the ORO assay. The impact of each paraben on glucose uptake and lipolytic activity of adipocytes were measured with a fluorescent glucose analog and enzymatically, respectively. Methyl- and propyl- parabens increased adipogenesis of 3T3-L1 white adipocytes but not brown adipocytes. In white adipocytes, methyl paraben increased glucose uptake and both parabens reduced basal lipolysis. However, in brown adipocytes, parabens had no effect on basal lipolysis and instead attenuated isoproterenol induced lipolysis. These data indicate that methyl- and propyl- parabens target the differentiation and metabolic processes of multiple types of adipocytes in a cell autonomous manner.

Keywords: Glucose uptake; Lipolysis; Methyl paraben; Obesity; Obesogens; Propyl paraben.

MeSH terms

  • 3T3-L1 Cells
  • Adipocytes / drug effects*
  • Adipocytes / metabolism
  • Adipocytes / pathology
  • Adipogenesis / drug effects*
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / pathology
  • Adipose Tissue, White / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue, White / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue, White / pathology
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cosmetics
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Lipolysis / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Parabens / toxicity*
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / toxicity*


  • Cosmetics
  • Parabens
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical
  • methylparaben
  • Glucose
  • propylparaben