Plasticizers used in food-contact materials affect adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 cells

Valentina Pomatto, Erika Cottone, Paolo Cocci, Matteo Mozzicafreddo, Gilberto Mosconi, Erik Russel Nelson, Francesco Alessandro Palermo, Patrizia Bovolin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent studies suggest that exposure to some plasticizers, such as Bisphenol A (BPA), play a role in endocrine/metabolic dispruption and can affect lipid accumulation in adipocytes. Here, we investigated the adipogenic activity and nuclear receptor interactions of four plasticizers approved for the manufacturing of food-contact materials (FCMs) and currently considered safer alternatives. Differentiating 3T3-L1 mouse preadipocytes were exposed to scalar concentrations (0.01–25 μM) of DiNP (Di-iso-nonyl-phthalate), DiDP (Di-iso-decyl-phthalate), DEGDB (Diethylene glycol dibenzoate), or TMCP (Tri-m-cresyl phosphate). Rosiglitazone, a well-known pro-adipogenic peroxisome proliferator activated receptor gamma (PPARγ) agonist, and the plasticizer BPA were included as reference compounds. All concentrations of plasticizers were able to enhance lipid accumulation, with TMCP being the most effective one. Accordingly, when comparing in silico the ligand binding efficiencies to the nuclear receptors PPARγ and retinoid-X-receptor-alpha (RXRα), TMPC displayed the highest affinity to both receptors. Differently from BPA, the four plasticizers were most effective in enhancing lipid accumulation when added in the mid-late phase of differentiation, thus suggesting the involvement of different intracellular signalling pathways. In line with this, TMCP, DiDP, DiNP and DEGDB were able to activate PPARγ in transient transfection assays, while previous studies demonstrated that BPA acts mainly through other nuclear receptors. qRT-PCR studies showed that all plasticizers were able to increase the expression of CCAAT/enhancer binding protein β (Cebpβ) in the early steps of adipogenesis, and the adipogenesis master gene Pparγ2 in the middle phase, with very similar efficacy to that of Rosiglitazone. In addition, TMCP was able to modulate the expression of both Fatty Acid Binding Protein 4/Adipocyte Protein 2 (Fabp4/Ap2) and Lipoprotein Lipase (Lpl) transcripts in the late phase of adipogenesis. DEGDB increased the expression of Lpl only, while the phthalate DiDP did not change the expression of either late-phase marker genes Fabp4 and Lpl. Taken together, our results suggest that exposure to low, environmentally relevant doses of the plasticizers DiNP, DiDP, DEGDB and TMCP increase lipid accumulation in 3T3-L1 adipocytes, an effect likely mediated through activation of PPARγ and interference at different levels with the transcriptional cascade driving adipogenesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)322-332
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
StatePublished - Apr 2018


  • Adipogenesis
  • Endocrine disruptor
  • Lipid accumulation
  • Nuclear receptors
  • Phthalates
  • Plasticizer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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