Dr. Robert Sargis of the University of Chicago said the chemical, tolylfluanid, is not registered for use in the United States but is used on food crops such as apples, grapes, hops and tomatoes in other countries.
"For the first time, we've ascribed a molecular mechanism by which an environmental pollutant can induce insulin resistance, lending credence to the hypothesis that some synthetic chemicals might be contributors to the diabetes epidemic," Sargis said in a statement.
Sargis and colleagues used mouse fat to examine the effects of tolylfluanid on insulin resistance at the cellular level. They found that exposure to tolylfluanid induced insulin resistance in fat cells, which play a critical role in regulating the body's blood glucose and fat levels.
"The fungicide and anti-fouling agent tolylfluanid might pose a threat to public health through the induction of adipocytic-insulin resistance, an early step in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes," Sargis said.
In addition, tolylfluanid-exposed cells stored more fat, or lipids, in a similar action to a steroid called corticosterone and like this steroid, tolylfluanid bound receptors in fat cells help regulate blood-sugar levels, as well as many other important body processes.
The findings were presented at The Endocrine Society's 94th annual meeting in Houston.