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The liver-alpha cell axis associates with liver fat and insulin resistance: a validation study in women with non-steatotic liver fat levels

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  • Christina Gar
  • Stefanie J Haschka
  • Stefanie Kern-Matschilles
  • Barbara Rauch
  • Vanessa Sacco
  • Cornelia Prehn
  • Jerzy Adamski
  • Jochen Seissler
  • Nicolai J Wewer Albrechtsen
  • Jens J Holst
  • Andreas Lechner
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AIMS/HYPOTHESIS: Many individuals who develop type 2 diabetes also display increased glucagon levels (hyperglucagonaemia), which we have previously found to be associated with the metabolic syndrome. The concept of a liver-alpha cell axis provides a possible link between hyperglucagonaemia and elevated liver fat content, a typical finding in the metabolic syndrome. However, this association has only been studied in individuals with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Hence, we searched for a link between the liver and the alpha cells in individuals with non-steatotic levels of liver fat content. We hypothesised that the glucagon-alanine index, an indicator of the functional integrity of the liver-alpha cell axis, would associate with liver fat and insulin resistance in our cohort of women with low levels of liver fat.

METHODS: We analysed data from 79 individuals participating in the Prediction, Prevention and Subclassification of Type 2 Diabetes (PPSDiab) study, a prospective observational study of young women at low to high risk for the development of type 2 diabetes. Liver fat content was determined by MRI. Insulin resistance was calculated as HOMA-IR. We conducted Spearman correlation analyses of liver fat content and HOMA-IR with the glucagon-alanine index (the product of fasting plasma levels of glucagon and alanine). The prediction of the glucagon-alanine index by liver fat or HOMA-IR was tested in multivariate linear regression analyses in the whole cohort as well as after stratification for liver fat content ≤0.5% (n = 39) or >0.5% (n = 40).

RESULTS: The glucagon-alanine index significantly correlated with liver fat and HOMA-IR in the entire cohort (ρ = 0.484, p < 0.001 and ρ = 0.417, p < 0.001, respectively). These associations resulted from significant correlations in participants with a liver fat content >0.5% (liver fat, ρ = 0.550, p < 0.001; HOMA-IR, ρ = 0.429, p = 0.006). In linear regression analyses, the association of the glucagon-alanine index with liver fat remained significant after adjustment for age and HOMA-IR in all participants and in those with liver fat >0.5% (β = 0.246, p = 0.0.23 and β = 0.430, p = 0.007, respectively) but not in participants with liver fat ≤0.5% (β = -0.184, p = 0.286).

CONCLUSIONS/INTERPRETATION: We reproduced the previously reported association of liver fat content and HOMA-IR with the glucagon-alanine index in an independent study cohort of young women with low to high risk for type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, our data indicates an insulin-resistance-independent association of liver fat content with the glucagon-alanine index. In summary, our study supports the concept that even lower levels of liver fat (from 0.5%) are connected to relative hyperglucagonaemia, reflecting an imminent impairment of the liver-alpha cell axis.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDiabetologia
Volume64
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)512-520
Number of pages9
ISSN0012-186X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

ID: 62406180