Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals with demonstrated endocrine-disrupting properties. Exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) has been linked to disturbed metabolism via the liver, although the exact mechanism is not clear. Moreover, information on the metabolic effects of the new PFAS alternative GenX is limited. We examined whether exposure to low-dose PFOA and GenX induces metabolic disturbances in mice, including NAFLD, dyslipidemia, and glucose tolerance, and studied the involvement of PPARα.
Male C57BL/6J wildtype and PPARα−/− mice were given 0.05 or 0.3 mg/kg body weight/day PFOA, or 0.3 mg/kg body weight/day GenX while being fed a high-fat diet for 20 weeks. Glucose and insulin tolerance tests were performed after 18 and 19 weeks. Plasma metabolite levels were measured next to a detailed assessment of the liver phenotype, including lipid content and RNA sequencing.
Exposure to high-dose PFOA decreased body weight and increased liver weight in wildtype and PPARα−/− mice. High-dose but not low-dose PFOA reduced plasma triglycerides and cholesterol, which for triglycerides was dependent on PPARα. PFOA and GenX increased hepatic triglycerides in a PPARα-dependent manner. RNA sequencing showed that the effects of GenX on hepatic gene expression were entirely dependent on PPARα, while the effects of PFOA were mostly dependent on PPARα. In the absence of PPARα, the involvement of PXR and CAR became more prominent.
Overall, we show that long-term and low-dose exposure to PFOA and GenX disrupts hepatic lipid metabolism in mice. Whereas the effects of PFOA are mediated by multiple nuclear receptors, the effects of GenX are entirely mediated by PPARα. Our data underscore the potential of PFAS to disrupt metabolism by altering signaling pathways in the liver.