Phthalate exposure in utero causes epigenetic changes and impairs insulin signalling

    1. Karundevi Balasubramanian
    1. Department of Endocrinology, Dr ALM Post Graduate Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Madras, Taramani, Chennai 600 113, India
    1. Correspondence should be addressed to K Balasubramanian; Email: kbala82{at}


    Di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) is an endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC), widely used as a plasticiser. Developmental exposure to EDCs could alter epigenetic programming and result in adult-onset disease. We investigated whether DEHP exposure during development affects glucose homoeostasis in the F1 offspring as a result of impaired insulin signal transduction in gastrocnemius muscle. Pregnant Wistar rats were administered DEHP (0, 1, 10 and 100 mg/kg per day) from embryonic days 9–21 orally. DEHP-exposed offspring exhibited elevated blood glucose, impaired serum insulin, glucose tolerance and insulin tolerance, along with reduced insulin receptor, glucose uptake and oxidation in the muscle at postnatal day 60. The levels of insulin signalling molecules and their phosphorylation were down-regulated in DEHP-exposed offspring. However, phosphorylated IRS1Ser636/639, which impedes binding of downstream effectors and the negative regulator (PTEN) of PIP3, was increased in DEHP-exposed groups. Down-regulation of glucose transporter 4 (Glut4 (Slc2a4)) gene expression and increased GLUT4Ser488 phosphorylation, which decreases its intrinsic activity and translocation towards the plasma membrane, were recorded. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assays detected decreased MYOD binding and increased histone deacetylase 2 interaction towards Glut4, indicative of the tight chromatin structure at the Glut4 promoter. Increased DNMTs and global DNA methylation levels were also observed. Furthermore, methylation of Glut4 at the MYOD-binding site was increased in DEHP-exposed groups. These findings indicate that, gestational DEHP exposure predisposes F1 offspring to glucometabolic dysfunction at adulthood by down-regulating the expression of critical genes involved in the insulin signalling pathway. Furthermore, DEHP-induced epigenetic alterations in Glut4 appear to play a significant role in disposition towards this metabolic abnormality.

    • Received in final form 30 July 2014
    • Accepted 8 August 2014
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