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Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Nov-Dec;121(11-12):1273-81. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1307082. Epub 2013 Sep 20.

Insulin resistance and environmental pollutants: experimental evidence and future perspectives.

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Systemic Physiological and Ecotoxicological Research (SPHERE), Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium.



The metabolic disruptor hypothesis postulates that environmental pollutants may be risk factors for metabolic diseases. Because insulin resistance is involved in most metabolic diseases and current health care prevention programs predominantly target insulin resistance or risk factors thereof, a critical analysis of the role of pollutants in insulin resistance might be important for future management of metabolic diseases.


We aimed to critically review the available information linking pollutant exposure to insulin resistance and to open the discussion on future perspectives for metabolic disruptor identification and prioritization strategies.


We searched PubMed and Web of Science for experimental studies reporting on linkages between environmental pollutants and insulin resistance and identified a total of 23 studies as the prime literature.


Recent studies specifically designed to investigate the effect of pollutants on insulin sensitivity show a potential causation of insulin resistance. Based on these studies, a summary of viable test systems and end points can be composed, allowing insight into what is missing and what is needed to create a standardized insulin resistance toxicity testing strategy.


It is clear that current research predominantly relies on top-down identification of insulin resistance-inducing metabolic disruptors and that the development of dedicated in vitro or ex vivo screens to allow animal sparing and time- and cost-effective bottom-up screening is a major future research need.

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