Young-onset diabetes in Asian Indians is associated with lower measured and genetically determined beta cell function

Diabetologia. 2022 Jun;65(6):973-983. doi: 10.1007/s00125-022-05671-z. Epub 2022 Mar 5.


Aims/hypothesis: South Asians in general, and Asian Indians in particular, have higher risk of type 2 diabetes compared with white Europeans, and a younger age of onset. The reasons for the younger age of onset in relation to obesity, beta cell function and insulin sensitivity are under-explored.

Methods: Two cohorts of Asian Indians, the ICMR-INDIAB cohort (Indian Council of Medical Research-India Diabetes Study) and the DMDSC cohort (Dr Mohan's Diabetes Specialties Centre), and one of white Europeans, the ESDC (East Scotland Diabetes Cohort), were used. Using a cross-sectional design, we examined the comparative prevalence of healthy, overweight and obese participants with young-onset diabetes, classified according to their BMI. We explored the role of clinically measured beta cell function in diabetes onset in Asian Indians. Finally, the comparative distribution of a partitioned polygenic score (pPS) for risk of diabetes due to poor beta cell function was examined. Replication of the genetic findings was sought using data from the UK Biobank.

Results: The prevalence of young-onset diabetes with normal BMI was 9.3% amongst white Europeans and 24-39% amongst Asian Indians. In Asian Indians with young-onset diabetes, after adjustment for family history of type 2 diabetes, sex, insulin sensitivity and HDL-cholesterol, stimulated C-peptide was 492 pmol/ml (IQR 353-616, p<0.0001) lower in lean compared with obese individuals. Asian Indians in our study, and South Asians from the UK Biobank, had a higher number of risk alleles than white Europeans. After weighting the pPS for beta cell function, Asian Indians have lower genetically determined beta cell function than white Europeans (p<0.0001). The pPS was associated with age of diagnosis in Asian Indians but not in white Europeans. The pPS explained 2% of the variation in clinically measured beta cell function, and 1.2%, 0.97%, and 0.36% of variance in age of diabetes amongst Asian Indians with normal BMI, or classified as overweight and obese BMI, respectively.

Conclusions/interpretation: The prevalence of lean BMI in young-onset diabetes is over two times higher in Asian Indians compared with white Europeans. This phenotype of lean, young-onset diabetes appears driven in part by lower beta cell function. We demonstrate that Asian Indians with diabetes also have lower genetically determined beta cell function.

Keywords: Beta cell function; Epidemiology; Genetics of type 2 diabetes; South Asian diabetes; Young-onset diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asian People / genetics
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / genetics
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Insulin Resistance* / genetics
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Overweight / genetics
  • Risk Factors