Plasma metabolomics identified novel metabolites associated with risk of type 2 diabetes in two prospective cohorts of Chinese adults

Int J Epidemiol. 2016 Oct;45(5):1507-1516. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw221. Epub 2016 Sep 30.


Background: Metabolomics studies in Caucasians have identified a number of novel metabolites in association with the risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D). However, few prospective metabolomic studies are available in Chinese populations. In the present study, we sought to identify novel metabolites consistently associated with incident T2D in two independent cohorts of Chinese adults.

Methods: We performed targeted metabolomics (52 metabolites) of fasting plasma samples by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry in two prospective case-control studies nested within the Dongfeng-Tongji (DFTJ) cohort and Jiangsu Non-communicable Disease (JSNCD) cohort. After following for 4.61 ± 0.15 and 7.57 ± 1.13 years, respectively, 1039 and 520 eligible participants developed incident T2D in these two cohorts, and controls were 1:1 matched with cases by age (± 5 years) and sex. Multivariate conditional logistic regression models were constructed to identify metabolites associated with future T2D risk in both cohorts.

Results: We identified four metabolites consistently associated with an increased risk of developing T2D in the two cohorts, including alanine, phenylalanine, tyrosine and palmitoylcarnitine. In the meta-analysis of two cohorts, the odds ratios (95% confidence intervals, CIs) comparing extreme quartiles were 1.79 (1.32-2.42) for alanine, 1.91 (1.41-2.60) for phenylalanine, 1.85 (1.37-2.48) for tyrosine and 1.63 (1.21-2.20) for palmitoylcarnitine (all Ptrend ≤ 0.01).

Conclusions: We confirmed the association of alanine, phenylalanine and tyrosine with future T2D risk and further identified palmitoylcarnitine as a novel metabolic marker of incident T2D in two prospective cohorts of Chinese adults. Our findings might provide new aetiological insight into the development of T2D.

Keywords: Chinese population; Type 2 diabetes; nested case-control study; targeted metabolomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amino Acids / blood*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Case-Control Studies
  • China / epidemiology
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / blood*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Metabolomics / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Odds Ratio
  • Palmitoylcarnitine / blood*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors


  • Amino Acids
  • Biomarkers
  • Blood Glucose
  • Palmitoylcarnitine