Fetal exposure to tributyltin linked to obesity

January 24, 2013

Exposing pregnant mice to low doses of the chemical tributyltin (TBT) – which was used in marine antifouling paints and is used as an antifungal agent in some paints, certain plastics and a variety of consumer products – can lead to obesity for multiple generations without subsequent exposure, a UC Irvine study has found.

After exposing to TBT at low concentrations, similar to those found in the environment and in humans, researchers observed increased body fat, liver fat and fat-specific gene expression in liver and in mouse "children," "grandchildren" and "great-grandchildren." The "children" were exposed as , while the "grandchildren" may have been exposed as within the "children." The "great-grandchildren" had never been exposed to TBT. Such effects without exposure are termed transgenerational and thought to be permanently transmitted to .

These findings demonstrate that early-life exposure to endocrine-disrupting compounds such as TBT can have permanent effects on fat accumulation, gene expression and stem without further exposure, said study leader Professor Bruce Blumberg with the UC Irvine Departments of Developmental & Cell Biology, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Biomedical Engineering.

The study appeared online Jan. 15 in Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences.

Human exposure to TBT and related organotins can occur in a variety of ways. TBT contaminates particles derived from such products as shower curtains, vinyl flooring, carpet fibers, polyurethane foams, mold-resistant paints and other consumer products, where it is used as an . As a result, noteworthy levels of TBT have been reported in house dust, which may be particularly relevant for young children who can spend significant time on floors and carpets. Although TBT is now largely banned for use in marine hull paints, it remains pervasive in the environment, and people can be exposed by ingesting TBT-contaminated seafood. Organotins may also leach into liquids that come into contact with organotin-containing plastic pipes, containers and packaging materials.

Blumberg categorizes TBT as an obesogen, a class of chemicals that promote obesity by increasing the number of fat cells and the storage of fat in existing cells or by altering metabolic regulation of appetite and satiety. He and his colleagues identified TBT as an obesogen in a 2006 publication and showed in 2010 that TBT acts in part by modifying the fate of mesenchymal stem cells during development, predisposing them to become fat cells.

Explore further: Fetal exposure to PVC plastic chemical linked to obesity in offspring

Related Stories

Recommended for you

A metabolic master switch underlying human obesity

August 19, 2015

Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges of the 21st century. Affecting more than 500 million people worldwide, obesity costs at least $200 billion each year in the United States alone, and contributes to potentially ...

Scientists probe obesity's ties to breast cancer risk

August 20, 2015

Obesity is a well-known risk factor for breast cancer, but researchers haven't figured out what connects the two. A new study suggests the link may be due to a change in breast tissue structure, which might promote breast ...

Can a new drug brown the fat and trim the obese person?

May 28, 2015

New research has found that a variant of a drug used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension prompts weight loss in obese mice. Among mice fed a high-fat diet, those who did not get the medication became obese while medicated ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.