A biomarker has been identified in people with prediabetes that could help prevent them from developing type 2 diabetes.
The discovery was made by researchers at Virginia Tech, who observed that people with prediabetes that were thought to be insulin resistant also had altered mitochondrial DNA. This can result in changes to the way chemical energy is converted from food into energy that cells can use.
40 participants were used for a sub-study of the diaBEAT-it program, a long-term diabetes prevention trial. The participants all had prediabetes and showed signs of insulin resistance, but did not have fully developed diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
Blood samples were taken from all the participants, with the results highlighting lower mitochondrial DNA. This was significantly reduced among patients with a BMI over 30.
Lower mitochondrial DNA was strongly associated with insulin resistance, while there was a dramatic increase in DNA methylation – which can affect mitochondrial copy numbers in cells – among participants who were obese or had insulin resistance compared to insulin-sensitive subjects.
The researchers concluded that increased methylation could lead to reduced mitochondrial DNA, which is associated with insulin resistance.
Zhiyong Cheng, an Assistant Professor at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate, said: “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.
“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.”
Collaborator Fabio Almeida 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.”
The findings of this study were published in the journal Clinical Epigenetics.

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