Background: Blood-vessel dysfunction arises before overt hyperglycemia in type-2 diabetes (T2DM). We hypothesised that a metabolomic approach might identify metabolites/pathways perturbed in this pre-hyperglycemic phase. To test this hypothesis and for specific metabolite hypothesis generation, serum metabolic profiling was performed in young women at increased, intermediate and low risk of subsequent T2DM.
Methods: Participants were stratified by glucose tolerance during a previous index pregnancy into three risk-groups: overt gestational diabetes (GDM; n = 18); those with glucose values in the upper quartile but below GDM levels (UQ group; n = 45); and controls (n = 43, below the median glucose values). Follow-up serum samples were collected at a mean 22 months postnatally. Samples were analysed in a random order using Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatography coupled to an electrospray hybrid LTQ-Orbitrap mass spectrometer. Statistical analysis included principal component (PCA) and multivariate methods.
Findings: Significant between-group differences were observed at follow-up in waist circumference (86, 95%CI (79-91) vs 80 (76-84) cm for GDM vs controls, p<0.05), adiponectin (about 33% lower in GDM group, p = 0.004), fasting glucose, post-prandial glucose and HbA1c, but the latter 3 all remained within the 'normal' range. Substantial differences in metabolite profiles were apparent between the 2 'at-risk' groups and controls, particularly in concentrations of phospholipids (4 metabolites with p ≤ 0.01), acylcarnitines (3 with p ≤ 0.02), short- and long-chain fatty acids (3 with p< = 0.03), and diglycerides (4 with p ≤ 0.05).
Interpretation: Defects in adipocyte function from excess energy storage as relatively hypoxic visceral and hepatic fat, and impaired mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation may initiate the observed perturbations in lipid metabolism. Together with evidence from the failure of glucose-directed treatments to improve cardiovascular outcomes, these data and those of others indicate that a new, quite different definition of type-2 diabetes is required. This definition would incorporate disturbed lipid metabolism prior to hyperglycemia.