Synthetic chemicals commonly found in insecticides and garden products bind to the receptors that govern our biological clocks, University at Buffalo (UB) researchers have found. The research suggests that exposure to these insecticides adversely affects melatonin receptor signaling, creating a higher risk for metabolic diseases such as diabetes and disrupting sleep patterns.
Published online on Dec 27 in Chemical Research in Toxicology, the research combined a big data approach, using computer modeling on millions of chemicals, with standard wet-laboratory experiments. It was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.
Disruptions in human circadian rhythms are known to put people at higher risk for diabetes and other metabolic diseases.
This is the first report demonstrating how environmental chemicals found in household products interact with human melatonin receptors.
The current research focuses on two chemicals, carbaryl, the third most widely used insecticide in the United States but which is illegal in several countries, and carbofuran, the most toxic carbamate insecticide, which has been banned for applications on food crops for human consumption since 2009. It is still used in many countries, including Mexico and traces persist in food, plants, and wildlife.
“We found that both insecticides are structurally similar to melatonin and that both showed affinity for the melatonin, MT2 receptors, that can potentially affect glucose homeostasis and insulin secretion, “That means that exposure to them could put people at higher risk for diabetes and also affect sleeping patterns.”
The results suggest that there is a need to assess environmental chemicals for their ability to disrupt circadian activity, something which is not currently being considered by federal regulators.
The UB database contains about 4 million chemicals reported to have some level of toxicity. “From those, we identified hundreds of thousands of compounds that had readily available chemical structures so that we could study them. After grouping the chemicals in clusters according to their similarity, they found several with functional groups similar to melatonin.