Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Toxicology and Cancer Biology

First Advisor

Dr. Bernhard Hennig


Environmental contamination is a public health concern. In particular persistent organic pollutants like Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) have been associated with multiple chronic inflammatory diseases, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD prevalence has steadily increased and is expected to continue to rise with an estimated 25% of the world’s population and 80-100 million people affected in the United States alone. Importantly, the liver is the primary site for endobiotic and xenobiotic metabolism, hence its proper function is critical for the body’s response to innate and extrinsic molecules. One way to combat the deleterious effects of PCB toxicity and fatty liver disease is by increasing consumption of beverages and foods that contain beneficial bioactive nutrients, like dietary polyphenols. However, the biological properties of these dietary compounds are subject to their bioavailability which is directly dependent on the activity of the liver.

The first aim of this dissertation was to test the hypothesis that in the presence of a compromised liver, PCB-126 toxicity is altered. Indeed, hepatic and systemic PCB-126 toxicity was exacerbated in this severe liver injury mouse model with an observed increase in hepatic inflammation, systemic inflammation, and early markers of endothelial cell dysfunction. Interestingly, we also observed an increase in the novel gut-liver axis derived cardiovascular disease (CVD) marker trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). Taken altogether, aim 1 proved that a compromised liver can alter PCB toxicity, with implications of the gut microbiota in disease pathology.

In aim 2 we investigated whether GTE can protect against MCD-induced hepatic toxicity and development of NAFLD. Results indicated that MCD mice exhibited severe liver injury and gut dysbiosis and unexpectedly, GTE had no protective effects. Interestingly MCD mice displayed differential epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) metabolism at the hepatic and gut microbiota level, which may alter polyphenol bioavailability and therapeutic potential. Overall, the results provide insight into how a dysfunctional liver and gut dysbiosis can alter polyphenol metabolism, possibly reducing its therapeutic efficiency.

In aim 3 we sought to determine potential protective effects of a prebiotic in this mouse model. MCD-fed mice were exposed to PCB-126 with or without inulin supplementation. Although findings from this study are preliminary, our evidence indicates that inulin restores body weight and body composition in this MCD+PCB mouse model and alters the expression of Cyp1a1 in PCB exposed mice, suggesting that inulin’s protective effects may be a result of its ability to interact with the AhR pathway. However further analysis will need to be done to examine the effects of inulin on hepatic, systemic, and gut microbiota endpoints.

Overall the data contained in this dissertation suggests that in the presence of a compromised liver both pollutant toxicity and nutrient metabolism are altered, with implications of the gut-microbiota in disease risk. These findings suggest that individuals with end stage liver injury may be more susceptible to pollutant-induced toxicity and nutritional intervention may be unsuccessful at mitigating disease risk.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This research was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences [P42ES007380, T32ES007266] and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences [P20GM103527] at the National Institutes of Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.