Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) is a glycoprotein composed of two 373-amino-acid subunits. The SHBG gene and a promotor region have been identified. The SHBG receptor has yet to be cloned but is known to act through a G-protein-linked second-messenger system following plasma membrane binding. The principal function of SHBG has traditionally been considered to be that of a transport protein for sex steroids, regulating circulating concentrations of free (unbound) hormones and their transport to target tissues. Recent research suggests that SHBG has functions in addition to the binding and transport of sex steroids. Observational studies have associated a low SHBG concentration with an increased incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM) independent of sex hormone levels in men and women. Genetic studies using Mendelian randomization analysis linking three single nucleotide polymorphisms of the SHBG gene to risk of developing type 2 DM suggest SHBG may have a role in the pathogenesis of type 2 DM. The correlation between SHBG and insulin resistance that is evident in a number of cross-sectional studies is in keeping with the suggestion that the association between SHBG and incidence of type 2 DM is explained by insulin resistance. Several potential mechanisms may account for this association, including the identification of dietary factors that influence SHBG gene transcription. Further research to characterize the SHBG-receptor and the SHBG second messenger system is required. An interventional study examining the effects on insulin resistance of altering SHBG concentrations may help in determining whether this association is causal.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.