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Combination of Common Pesticides Detrimental to Mesenchymal Stem Cells

Review of “Low-Dose Pesticide Mixture Induces Senescence in Normal Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSC) and Promotes Tumorigenic Phenotype in Premalignant MSC” from Stem Cells by Stuart P. Atkinson

While the intensive application of a wide variety of pesticides ensures food supply protection, human exposure to such compounds may represent a significant health risk [1]. Researchers from the laboratories of François Vallette and Christophe Olivier (Université de Nantes, Nantes, France) sought to assess how a chronic low concentration common pesticide combination, used to model exposure from a Western diet, can affect human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs), given their wide distribution throughout the body and links to tumor growth and metastasis. 

Their new study, published in Stem Cells, provides new insight into how exposure to a combination of common environmental pollutants can be detrimental to mesenchymal stem cells and therefore, human health [2].

The team’s initial analysis determined that while a 21-day exposure of the common pesticide mixture did not affect differentiated cells (i.e. fibroblasts and endothelial cells), exposed hMSCs exhibited a reduced proliferative rate and entered into early oxidative stress-related senescence. Exposed cells also downregulated both mitochondrial capacity and glycolysis during early stages of exposure, although hMSCs adapted to the stressors and these metabolic measures returned to expected levels at later stages. However, differentiation studies demonstrated that while hMSC self-renewal capacity remained, exposed cells exhibited a propensity for adipogenic differentiation at the expense of osteogenic differentiation.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly of all, the study established that exposure to the pesticide combination may foster tumorigenic growth. Treatment of “naïve” hMSCs with the pesticide mixture did not promote tumorigenesis; however, modified premalignant hMSCs responded differently, showing signs of exacerbated and accelerated tumorigenic transformation in vitro and in vivo.

Detrimental to naïve hMSCs and tumorigenic to pre-malignant hMSCs; this study highlights the potentially damaging effects of low concentrations of a pesticide combination on an adult stem cell type found throughout the human body. Further studies may assess effects on other important adult stem cell types, such as neural stem cells and hematopoietic stem cells, and depict other potentially harmful side effects of compounds whose ultimate aim is to provide us a secure food supply.

Discussion Points

  • Do other stem cells respond in a similar manner to pesticide combinations?
  • Is there any way to protect stem cells from exposure to these pesticides and their consequences?
  • Is there a better and safer way to ensure food supply protection without harming stem cells and human health?


  1. Alavanja MC. Introduction: pesticides use and exposure extensive worldwide. Reviews on environmental health 2009;24:303-309.
  2. Hochane M, Trichet V, Pecqueur C, et al. Low-Dose Pesticide Mixture Induces Senescence in Normal Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSC) and Promotes Tumorigenic Phenotype in Premalignant MSC. Stem Cells 2017;35:800-811.

See the video abstract for this great new study on the Stem Cells Portal!