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Environmental Factor, August 2015

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Parma consensus statement on metabolic disruptors supported by NIEHS scientists

By Kelly Lenox

Headshot of Jerry Heindel

Heindel develops and administers the NIEHS grants program in endocrine disruptors, developmental basis of diseases, reproductive toxicology, and obesity. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Headshot of Thad Schug

Schug is a health scientist administrator in DERT, where he supports research on male and female reproduction, metabolism, development and disruption of endocrine systems, nanotechnology, and projects related to green chemistry. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS scientists and grantees are among the authors of a paper calling for new research on the role that environmental exposures may play in disrupting metabolic pathways. The paper, published June 20 in the journal Environmental Health, also explains the concept of metabolic disruptors.

Known as the Parma consensus statement, it is the product of a May 2014 meeting in Parma, Italy, where an international group of researchers grappled with how metabolic disrupting chemicals may be involved in the development of obesity and related metabolic disorders.

The authors said they hope the new consensus statement will achieve several goals:

  • Aid in understanding the role of metabolic disruptors in the epidemics of obesity and metabolic disease.
  • Move the field forward by assessing the current state of the science.
  • Identify needed research on the role environmental chemical exposures may play in these diseases.

Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., health scientist administrator in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT), was the paper’s lead author. “At the meeting, we wanted to assess what is known about metabolic disruptors and agree on the best way to move forward,” he said. “This statement distills the discussions that took place among the wide range of researchers, from toxicologists and neurobiologists to risk assessors and clinicians.”

Why environmental exposures are of concern

The statement explains why the scientists are concerned about metabolic disruptors, including saying that there is more to the environmental component of obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome (see sidebar) than diet and exercise alone can explain. As the authors wrote, “There are no known classical genetic mechanisms that could explain the remarkable changes in body composition that have occurred over recent decades. Therefore, there has been a significant focus on identifying changes in gene expression and epigenetic marks caused by environmental factors.”

Furthermore, they wrote that susceptibility to metabolic disorders is, at least in part, programmed by in utero exposures. Such programming may alter centers in the brain that affect appetite and satisfaction, and impact numbers of fat cells and organ function, among other outcomes.

Focus of future research

The authors call for a multidisciplinary and integrated research strategy to further test the hypothesis that metabolic disruptors are involved in development of obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Among the many suggested targets for future research are defining the role of metabolic disruptors in type 1 and type 2 diabetes, developing and validating screening tests to detect and prioritize metabolic disruptors, and developing an integrated conceptual approach linking animal studies with long-term human studies.

“There is a need for more research to test the hypothesis that metabolic disruptors do indeed alter the likelihood of developing obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome,” said another co-author on the paper, Thad Schug, Ph.D. He oversees a portfolio of grants related to the development and disruption of endocrine systems, for the NIEHS Population Health Branch.

The statement closes with a call to research: “A coherent, enhanced research agenda will help identify strategies to prevent metabolic diseases through actions that can be taken by individuals as well as public health agencies. History shows that prevention is always the best strategy.”

Citation: Heindel JJ, Vom Saal FS, Blumberg B, Bovolin P, Calamandrei G, Ceresini G, Cohn BA, Fabbri E, Gioiosa L, Kassotis C, Legler J, La Merrill M, Rizzir L, Machtinger R, Mantovani A, Mendez MA, Montanini L, Molteni L, Nagel SC, Parmigiani S, Panzica G, Paterlini S, Pomatto V, Ruzzin J, Sartor G, Schug TT, Street ME, Suvorov A, Volpi R, Zoeller RT, Palanza P. 2015. Parma consensus statement on metabolic disruptors. Environ Health. 14(1):54.

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