Persistent organic pollutants and β-cell toxicity: a comprehensive review

Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2022 May 1;322(5):E383-E413. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00358.2021. Epub 2022 Feb 14.


Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are a diverse family of contaminants that show widespread global dispersion and bioaccumulation. Humans are continuously exposed to POPs through diet, air particles, and household and commercial products; POPs are consistently detected in human tissues, including the pancreas. Epidemiological studies show a modest but consistent correlation between exposure to POPs and increased diabetes risk. The goal of this review is to provide an overview of epidemiological evidence and an in-depth evaluation of the in vivo and in vitro evidence that POPs cause β-cell toxicity. We review evidence for six classes of POPs: dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides (OCPs), organophosphate pesticides (OPPs), flame retardants, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The available data provide convincing evidence implicating POPs as a contributing factor driving impaired glucose homeostasis, β-cell dysfunction, and altered metabolic and oxidative stress pathways in islets. These findings support epidemiological data showing that POPs increase diabetes risk and emphasize the need to consider the endocrine pancreas in toxicity assessments. Our review also highlights significant gaps in the literature assessing islet-specific endpoints after both in vivo and in vitro POP exposure. In addition, most rodent studies do not consider the impact of biological sex or secondary metabolic stressors in mediating the effects of POPs on glucose homeostasis and β-cell function. We discuss key gaps and limitations that should be assessed in future studies.

Keywords: diabetes; hyperglycemia; insulin; persistent organic pollutants; β-cell dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Pollutants* / toxicity
  • Glucose
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated* / analysis
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated* / toxicity
  • Persistent Organic Pollutants
  • Pesticides* / analysis
  • Pesticides* / toxicity
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls* / analysis
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls* / toxicity


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Pesticides
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Glucose