Mitochondrial Biomarker Can Help Predict Type 2 Diabetes Risk

March 31, 2023

Summary: One-third of adults in the US are living with prediabetes. However, some of them are more likely to progress to diabetes than others. Those living with more significant mitochondrial dysfunction are more likely to develop diabetes. In a new study, researchers found that IF1 is a reliable mitochondrial biomarker, and its low levels are associated with higher diabetes risk.

Thus, in the future, IF1 can be used to predict diabetes risk. The diabetes pandemic has been ongoing for decades and is showing no sign of fading. On the contrary, the number of people living with diabetes is rising at an alarming rate. About 10.5% of people in the US are already living with diabetes. What is worrisome is that another 30% are on the verge of developing diabetes; these are people living with prediabetes.

Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and more. It is among the top 10 causes of morbidity and mortality. Diabetes also causes significant disability and a massive burden on the healthcare system. Diabetes (that is type 2 diabetes) occurs due to years of neglect, excessive calorie intake, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and more.

Nonetheless, researchers have seen that not all people living with prediabetes would develop diabetes. In addition, some people are more likely to progress to diabetes than others. But the question arises: how can doctors know who is at a greater risk of progressing to diabetes? For example, if two individuals living with prediabetes are of the same age, body weight, and have a lifestyle, how can doctors explain why one of them develops diabetes, and the other does not?

However, it appears that doctors are now developing a better understanding of diabetes and prediabetes at a molecular level. For example, they have started understanding that mitochondrial dysfunction plays an important role in developing insulin resistance.
The role of mitochondrial dysfunction in diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders, mental health issues, and various metabolic disorders is now a widely discussed subject. Though experimental studies confirm mitochondrial dysfunction in many non-communicable diseases, measuring it in clinical settings remains a challenge.

However, now it appears that researchers have found the way; they have identified a reliable biomarker of mitochondrial energy metabolism. It seems that the level of ATPase inhibitory factor 1 (IF1) is reduced with mitochondrial dysfunction. Thus, those living with prediabetes are more likely to progress to diabetes if they have low IF1 plasma levels. In the new study called IT-DIAB, which was a 5-year follow-up study of 307 individuals living with prediabetes, researchers found that those with low IF1 levels were more likely to progress to diabetes.

In the study, after five years, 115 participants (37%) developed diabetes. Researchers found that those who developed diabetes had an IF1 plasma level of 537 ng/mL against 621 ng/mL in those who did not progress to diabetes. Though the study was small, it is the first of its kinds of studies to show how mitochondrial dysfunction biomarkers can be used to predict diabetes risk in those living with prediabetes.

Researchers say that despite the small sample size, the study is relevant. Now researchers can build up on these findings and carry out more extensive studies. In the future, this biomarker might be adopted as one of the reliable ways of predicting diabetes risk. Additionally, such biomarkers may be valuable in predicting the risk of many other metabolic health disorders. After all, it is no secret that mitochondrial dysfunction plays a role in many other health disorders. This biomarker may also help find effective remedies for managing mitochondrial dysfunction, thus preventing various health disorders.

By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP