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Toxicol Sci. 2019 Feb 1;167(2):426-437. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfy252.

Benzene Exposure Induces Insulin Resistance in Mice.

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Department of Medicine, Diabetes and Obesity Center, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky 40292.
Envirome Institute, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky 40292.
University of Louisville Superfund Research Center, Louisville, Kentucky 40202.


Benzene is a ubiquitous pollutant associated with hematotoxicity but its metabolic effects are unknown. We sought to determine if and how exposure to volatile benzene impacted glucose handling. We exposed wild type C57BL/6 mice to volatile benzene (50 ppm × 6 h/day) or HEPA-filtered air for 2 or 6 weeks and measured indices of oxidative stress, inflammation, and insulin signaling. Compared with air controls, we found that mice inhaling benzene demonstrated increased plasma glucose (p = .05), insulin (p = .03), and HOMA-IR (p = .05), establishing a state of insulin and glucose intolerance. Moreover, insulin-stimulated Akt phosphorylation was diminished in the liver (p = .001) and skeletal muscle (p = .001) of benzene-exposed mice, accompanied by increases in oxidative stress and Nf-κb phosphorylation (p = .025). Benzene-exposed mice also demonstrated elevated levels of Mip1-α transcripts and Socs1 (p = .001), but lower levels of Irs-2 tyrosine phosphorylation (p = .0001). Treatment with the superoxide dismutase mimetic, TEMPOL, reversed benzene-induced effects on oxidative stress, Nf-κb phosphorylation, Socs1 expression, Irs-2 tyrosine phosphorylation, and systemic glucose intolerance. These findings suggest that exposure to benzene induces insulin resistance and that this may be a sensitive indicator of inhaled benzene toxicity. Persistent ambient benzene exposure may be a heretofore unrecognized contributor to the global human epidemics of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

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