Associations between persistent organic pollutants and type 1 diabetes in youth

Environ Int. 2022 May:163:107175. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2022.107175. Epub 2022 Mar 16.


Background: Diabetes affects millions of people worldwide with a continued increase in incidence occurring within the pediatric population. The potential contribution of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) to diabetes in youth remains poorly known, especially regarding type 1 diabetes (T1D), generally the most prevalent form of diabetes in youth.

Objectives: We investigated the associations between POPs and T1D in youth and studied the impacts of POPs on pancreatic β-cell function and viability in vitro.

Methods: We used data and plasma samples from the SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Case Control Study (SEARCH-CC). Participants were categorized as Controls, T1D with normal insulin sensitivity (T1D/IS), and T1D with insulin resistance (T1D/IR). We assessed plasma concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochlorine pesticides and estimated the odds of T1D through multivariable logistic regression. In addition, we performed in vitro experiments with the INS-1E pancreatic β-cells. Cells were treated with PCB-153 or p,p'-DDE at environmentally relevant doses. We measured insulin production and secretion and assessed the mRNA expression of key regulators involved in insulin synthesis (Ins1, Ins2, Pdx1, Mafa, Pcsk1/3, and Pcsk2), glucose sensing (Slc2a2 and Gck), and insulin secretion (Abcc8, Kcnj11, Cacna1d, Cacna1b, Stx1a, Snap25, and Sytl4). Finally, we assessed the effects of PCB-153 and p,p'-DDE on β-cell viability.

Results: Among 442 youths, 112 were controls, 182 were classified with T1D/IS and 148 with T1D/IR. The odds ratios (OR) of T1D/IS versus controls were statistically significant for p,p'-DDE (OR 2.0, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.0, 3.8 and 2.4, 95% CI 1.2, 5.0 for 2nd and 3rd tertiles, respectively), trans-nonachlor (OR 2.5, 95% CI 1.3, 5.0 and OR 2.3, 95% CI 1.1, 5.1 for 2nd and 3rd tertiles, respectively), and PCB-153 (OR 2.3, 95% CI 1.1, 4.6 for 3rd tertile). However, these associations were not observed in participants with T1D/IR. At an experimental level, treatment with p,p'-DDE or PCB-153, at concentrations ranging from 1 × 10-15 M to 5 × 10-6 M, impaired the ability of pancreatic β-cells to produce and secrete insulin in response to glucose. These failures were paralleled by impaired Ins1 and Ins2 mRNA expression. In addition, among different targeted genes, PCB-153 significantly reduced Slc2a2 and Gck mRNA expression whereas p,p'-DDE mainly affected Abcc8 and Kcnj11. While treatment with PCB-153 or p,p'-DDE for 2 days did not affect β-cell viability, longer treatment progressively killed the β-cells.

Conclusion: These results support a potential role of POPs in T1D etiology and demonstrate a high sensitivity of pancreatic β-cells to POPs.

Keywords: Organochlorine Pesticides; Persistent Organic Pollutants; Polychlorinated Biphenyls; Type 1 Diabetes; Youths.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1* / epidemiology
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene
  • Environmental Pollutants* / adverse effects
  • Glucose
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated* / analysis
  • Insulin
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Persistent Organic Pollutants
  • Pesticides*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls*
  • RNA, Messenger


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Insulin
  • Pesticides
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Glucose