Elevated Circulating Glutamate Is Associated With Subclinical Atherosclerosis Independently of Established Risk Markers: A Cross-Sectional Study

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2021 Jan 23;106(2):e982-e989. doi: 10.1210/clinem/dgaa898.


Objective: Elevated plasma glutamate levels are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Because plasma glutamate levels are also strongly associated with visceral adiposity, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, and high circulating levels of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), it is unknown to what extent elevated circulating glutamate is an independent marker of an increased risk of atherosclerosis.

Methods: Plasma levels of glutamate and BCAAs were measured in 102 individuals who were precisely phenotyped for body fat mass and distribution (magnetic resonance [MR] tomography), liver fat content (1H-MR spectroscopy), insulin sensitivity (oral glucose tolerance test and hyperinsulinemic, euglycemic clamp [N = 57]), and carotid intima media thickness (cIMT).

Results: Plasma glutamate levels, adjusted for age, sex, body fat mass, and visceral fat mass, correlated positively with liver fat content and cIMT (all std β ≥ .22, all P ≤ .023) and negatively with insulin sensitivity (std β ≤ -.31, P ≤ .002). Glutamate levels also were associated with cIMT, independently of additional adjustment for liver fat content, insulin sensitivity and BCAAs levels (std β ≥ .24, P ≤ .02). Furthermore, an independent positive association of glutamate and interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels was observed (N = 50; std β = .39, P = .03). Although glutamate, adjusted for age, sex, body fat mass, and visceral fat mass, also correlated positively with cIMT in this subgroup (std β = .31, P = .02), after additional adjustment for the parameters liver fat content, insulin sensitivity, BCAAs, or IL-6 levels, adjustment for IL-6 most strongly attenuated this relationship (std β = .28, P = .05).

Conclusions: Elevated plasma glutamate levels are associated with increased cIMT, independently of established CVD risk factors, and this relationship may in part be explained by IL-6-associated subclinical inflammation.

Keywords: carotid intima media thickness; endothelial cells; insulin resistance; nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; plasma glutamate; visceral obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity*
  • Atherosclerosis / blood
  • Atherosclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • Carotid Intima-Media Thickness*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Glutamic Acid / blood*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis


  • Biomarkers
  • Glutamic Acid