Exposure to a mixture of legacy, alternative, and replacement per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) results in sex-dependent modulation of cholesterol metabolism and liver injury

By Katherine Roth, Zhao Yang, Manisha Agarwal, Wendy Liu, Zheyun Peng, Ze Long, Johnna Birbeck, Judy Westrick, Wanqing Liu, and Michael C Petriello
Environ Int
September 8, 2021
DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106843


Epidemiological studies have shown Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to be associated with diseases of dysregulated lipid and sterol homeostasis such as steatosis and cardiometabolic disorders. However, the majority of mechanistic studies rely on single chemical exposures instead of identifying mechanisms related to the toxicity of PFAS mixtures.


The goal of the current study is to investigate mechanisms linking exposure to a PFAS mixture with alterations in lipid metabolism, including increased circulating cholesterol and bile acids.


Male and female wild-type C57BL/6J mice were fed an atherogenic diet used in previous studies of pollutant-accelerated atherosclerosis and exposed to water containing a mixture of 5 PFAS representing legacy, replacement, and alternative subtypes (i.e., PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, and GenX), each at a concentration of 2 mg/L, for 12 weeks. Changes at the transcriptome and metabolome level were determined by RNA-seq and high-resolution mass spectrometry, respectively.


We observed increased circulating cholesterol, sterol metabolites, and bile acids due to PFAS exposure, with some sexual dimorphic effects. PFAS exposure increased hepatic injury, demonstrated by increased liver weight, hepatic inflammation, and plasma alanine aminotransferase levels. Females displayed increased lobular and portal inflammation compared to the male PFAS-exposed mice. Hepatic transcriptomics analysis revealed PFAS exposure modulated multiple metabolic pathways, including those related to sterols, bile acids, and acyl carnitines, with multiple sex-specific differences observed. Finally, we show that hepatic and circulating levels of PFOA were increased in exposed females compared to males, but this sexual dimorphism was not the same for other PFAS examined.


Exposure of mice to a mixture of PFAS results in PFAS-mediated modulation of cholesterol levels, possibly through disruption of enterohepatic circulation.

View on PubMed