Elevated Medium-Chain Acylcarnitines Are Associated With Gestational Diabetes Mellitus and Early Progression to Type 2 Diabetes and Induce Pancreatic β-Cell Dysfunction

Diabetes. 2018 May;67(5):885-897. doi: 10.2337/db17-1150. Epub 2018 Feb 7.


Specific circulating metabolites have emerged as important risk factors for the development of diabetes. The acylcarnitines (acylCs) are a family of metabolites known to be elevated in type 2 diabetes (T2D) and linked to peripheral insulin resistance. However, the effect of acylCs on pancreatic β-cell function is not well understood. Here, we profiled circulating acylCs in two diabetes cohorts: 1) women with gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) and 2) women with recent GDM who later developed impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), new-onset T2D, or returned to normoglycemia within a 2-year follow-up period. We observed a specific elevation in serum medium-chain (M)-acylCs, particularly hexanoyl- and octanoylcarnitine, among women with GDM and individuals with T2D without alteration in long-chain acylCs. Mice treated with M-acylCs exhibited glucose intolerance, attributed to impaired insulin secretion. Murine and human islets exposed to elevated levels of M-acylCs developed defects in glucose-stimulated insulin secretion and this was directly linked to reduced mitochondrial respiratory capacity and subsequent ability to couple glucose metabolism to insulin secretion. In conclusion, our study reveals that an elevation in circulating M-acylCs is associated with GDM and early stages of T2D onset and that this elevation directly impairs β-cell function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Carnitine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Carnitine / metabolism
  • Carnitine / pharmacology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cell Respiration / drug effects
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Diabetes, Gestational / metabolism*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Glucose Intolerance / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin Secretion
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / drug effects
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism*
  • Islets of Langerhans / drug effects
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy


  • Insulin
  • acylcarnitine
  • hexanoylcarnitine
  • octanoylcarnitine
  • Carnitine