prediabetes DNA

Virginia Tech researchers have uncovered a biomarker in people with prediabetes that could prevent cases of type 2 diabetes being diagnosed.

In a small study, changes in mitochondrial DNA were observed among prediabetes patients who were also thought to be insulin resistant.

When mitochondrial DNA is altered, this can lead to modifications in the way chemical energy is converted from food into energy that cells can use.

40 participants with prediabetes, who showed signs of insulin resistance, were recruited for a sub-study of the diaBEAT-it program, a long-term diabetes prevention trial. None of the participants had fully developed diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

After blood samples were taken from all the participants, lower mitochondrial DNA was strongly associated with insulin resistance. This was particularly significant for patients with a BMI over 30.

In obese or insulin resistant patients, reduced mitochondrial DNA was observed alongside a dramatic increase of DNA methylation, which can affect mitochondrial copy number in cells. The researchers added that increased methylation could be responsible for reduced mitochondrial DNA.

“If the body is insulin resistant, or unable to respond properly to insulin, it could affect a person’s mitochondrial function and overall energy levels,” said Zhiyong Cheng, assistant professor at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate.

“Mitochondrial alterations have previously been observed in obese individuals, but this is the first time we’ve made the molecular link between insulin resistance and mitochondrial DNA changes.”

Colleague Fabio Almeida, who also worked on the study, added: “There is no known cure for type 2 diabetes and early diagnosis and intervention is critical to prevent this disease.

“Discovery of the biomarker in obese, pre-diabetic individuals advances our understanding of how diabetes develops and provides evidence important for future diagnosis and intervention.”