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Obesogens, stem cells and the developmental programming of obesity


Bruce Blumberg, Department of Developmental and Cell Biology, 2011 BioSci 3, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697-2300, USA. E-mail:


Obesogens are chemicals that directly or indirectly lead to increased fat accumulation and obesity. Obesogens have the potential to disrupt multiple metabolic signalling pathways in the developing organism that can result in permanent changes in adult physiology. Prenatal or perinatal exposure to obesogenic endocrine disrupting chemicals has been shown to predispose an organism to store more fat from the beginning of its life. For example, excess oestrogen or cortisol exposure in the womb or during early life resulted in an increased susceptibility to obesity and metabolic syndrome later in life. This review focuses on the effects of environmental chemicals, such as the model obesogen, tributyltin (TBT), on the development of obesity. We discuss evidence linking the obesogenic effects of TBT with its ability to activate the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma and stimulate adipogenesis. We also discuss how TBT and other environmental obesogens may lead to epigenetic changes that predispose exposed individuals to subsequent weight gain and obesity. This suggests that humans, who have been exposed to obesogenic chemicals during sensitive windows of development, might be pre-programmed to store increased amounts of fat, resulting in a lifelong struggle to maintain a healthy weight and exacerbating the deleterious effects of poor diet and inadequate exercise.