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Association of circulating long-chain free fatty acids and incident diabetes risk among normoglycemic Chinese adults: a prospective nested case-control study.

BACKGROUND: Long-chain free fatty acids (FFAs) are associated with risk of incident diabetes. However, a comprehensive assessment of the associations in normoglycemic populations is lacking.

OBJECTIVES: Our study aimed to comprehensively investigate the prospective associations and patterns of FFA profiles with diabetes risk among normoglycemic Chinese adults.

METHODS: This is a prospective nested case-control study from the China Cardiometabolic Disease and Cancer Cohort (4C) study. We quantitatively measured 53 serum FFAs using a targeted metabolomics approach in 1707 incident diabetes subjects and 1707 propensity score-matched normoglycemic controls. Conditional logistic regression models were employed to estimate odds ratios (ORs) for associations. Least Absolute Shrinkage and Selection Operator (LASSO) penalty regression and quantile g-computation (qg-comp) analyses were implemented to estimate the association between multi-FFA exposures and incident diabetes.

RESULTS: The majority of odd-chain FFAs exhibited an inverse association with incident diabetes, wherein the ORs per SD increment of all 7 saturated fatty acids (SFAs), monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) 15:1, and polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) 25:2 were ranging from 0.79 to 0.88 (95% CIs ranging between 0.71 and 0.97). Even-chain FFAs comprised 99.3% of total FFAs and displayed heterogeneity with incident diabetes. SFAs with 18-26 carbon atoms are inversely linked to incident diabetes, with ORs ranging from 0.81 to 0.86 (95% CIs ranging between 0.73 and 0.94). MUFAs 26:1 (OR: 0.85; 95% CI: 0.76, 0.94), PUFAs 20:4 (OR: 0.84; 95% CI: 0.75, 0.94), and 24:2 (OR: 0.87; 95% CI: 0.78, 0.97) demonstrated significant associations. In multi-FFA exposure model, 24 FFAs were significantly associated with incident diabetes, most of which were consistent with univariate results. The mixture OR was 0.78 (95% CI: 0.61, 0.99; P = 0.04159). Differential correlation network analysis revealed pre-existing perturbations in intraclass and interclass FFA coregulation before diabetes onset.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings underscore the variations in diabetes risk associated with FFAs across chain length and unsaturation degree, highlighting the importance of recognizing FFA subtypes in the pathogenesis of diabetes.

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