Amino acid and lipid metabolism in post-gestational diabetes and progression to type 2 diabetes: A metabolic profiling study

PLoS Med. 2020 May 20;17(5):e1003112. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003112. eCollection 2020 May.


Background: Women with a history of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) have a 7-fold higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D) during midlife and an elevated risk of developing hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Glucose tolerance reclassification after delivery is recommended, but fewer than 40% of women with GDM are tested. Thus, improved risk stratification methods are needed, as is a deeper understanding of the pathology underlying the transition from GDM to T2D. We hypothesize that metabolites during the early postpartum period accurately distinguish risk of progression from GDM to T2D and that metabolite changes signify underlying pathophysiology for future disease development.

Methods and findings: The study utilized fasting plasma samples collected from a well-characterized prospective research study of 1,035 women diagnosed with GDM. The cohort included racially/ethnically diverse pregnant women (aged 20-45 years-33% primiparous, 37% biparous, 30% multiparous) who delivered at Kaiser Permanente Northern California hospitals from 2008 to 2011. Participants attended in-person research visits including 2-hour 75-g oral glucose tolerance tests (OGTTs) at study baseline (6-9 weeks postpartum) and annually thereafter for 2 years, and we retrieved diabetes diagnoses from electronic medical records for 8 years. In a nested case-control study design, we collected fasting plasma samples among women without diabetes at baseline (n = 1,010) to measure metabolites among those who later progressed to incident T2D or did not develop T2D (non-T2D). We studied 173 incident T2D cases and 485 controls (pair-matched on BMI, age, and race/ethnicity) to discover metabolites associated with new onset of T2D. Up to 2 years post-baseline, we analyzed samples from 98 T2D cases with 239 controls to reveal T2D-associated metabolic changes. The longitudinal analysis tracked metabolic changes within individuals from baseline to 2 years of follow-up as the trajectory of T2D progression. By building prediction models, we discovered a distinct metabolic signature in the early postpartum period that predicted future T2D with a median discriminating power area under the receiver operating characteristic curve of 0.883 (95% CI 0.820-0.945, p < 0.001). At baseline, the most striking finding was an overall increase in amino acids (AAs) as well as diacyl-glycerophospholipids and a decrease in sphingolipids and acyl-alkyl-glycerophospholipids among women with incident T2D. Pathway analysis revealed up-regulated AA metabolism, arginine/proline metabolism, and branched-chain AA (BCAA) metabolism at baseline. At follow-up after the onset of T2D, up-regulation of AAs and down-regulation of sphingolipids and acyl-alkyl-glycerophospholipids were sustained or strengthened. Notably, longitudinal analyses revealed only 10 metabolites associated with progression to T2D, implicating AA and phospholipid metabolism. A study limitation is that all of the analyses were performed with the same cohort. It would be ideal to validate our findings in an independent longitudinal cohort of women with GDM who had glucose tolerance tested during the early postpartum period.

Conclusions: In this study, we discovered a metabolic signature predicting the transition from GDM to T2D in the early postpartum period that was superior to clinical parameters (fasting plasma glucose, 2-hour plasma glucose). The findings suggest that metabolic dysregulation, particularly AA dysmetabolism, is present years prior to diabetes onset, and is revealed during the early postpartum period, preceding progression to T2D, among women with GDM.

Trial registration: Identifier: NCT01967030.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amino Acids / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Diabetes, Gestational / metabolism*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Middle Aged
  • Postpartum Period / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Amino Acids

Associated data