Circulating MicroRNA-122 Is Associated With the Risk of New-Onset Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes

MicroRNA-122 (miR-122) is abundant in the liver and involved in lipid homeostasis, but its relevance to the long-term risk of developing metabolic disorders is unknown. We therefore measured circulating miR-122 in the prospective population-based Bruneck Study (n = 810; survey year 1995). Circulating miR-122 was associated with prevalent insulin resistance, obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and an adverse lipid profile. Among 92 plasma proteins and 135 lipid subspecies quantified with mass spectrometry, it correlated inversely with zinc-α-2-glycoprotein and positively with afamin, complement factor H, VLDL-associated apolipoproteins, and lipid subspecies containing monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids. Proteomics analysis of livers from antagomiR-122–treated mice revealed novel regulators of hepatic lipid metabolism that are responsive to miR-122 inhibition. In the Anglo-Scandinavian Cardiac Outcomes Trial (ASCOT, n = 155), 12-month atorvastatin reduced circulating miR-122. A similar response to atorvastatin was observed in mice and cultured murine hepatocytes. Over up to 15 years of follow-up in the Bruneck Study, multivariable adjusted risk ratios per one-SD higher log miR-122 were 1.60 (95% CI 1.30–1.96; P < 0.001) for metabolic syndrome and 1.37 (1.03–1.82; P = 0.021) for type 2 diabetes. In conclusion, circulating miR-122 is strongly associated with the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in the general population.

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