The researchers also used genetic data to confirm that SHBG may play a causal role in the development of type 2 diabetes.
"Our findings provide further support of the importance of the sex-hormone biology, an area of diabetic pathogenesis which has been relatively less well-studied," Liu said.
While the exact causal mechanism involved in SHBG levels and type 2 diabetes are unclear, it appears that SHBG is involved in complex chemical interactions that can increase or decrease the risk for the disease, the researchers say.
Until now, classical thinking and teaching in medicine have never focused on the potential causal role of SHBG in the development of disease, Liu noted. "By directly linking SHBG with diabetes risk at both genetic and plasma levels, our data suggest that SHBG may have important biological effects that go beyond simply regulating sex-hormones in the blood," he said.
These findings provide new insights into the mechanisms underlying the relationship between sex-steroid hormone metabolism and type 2 diabetes, Liu said.
About 24 million Americans have diabetes, mostly type 2, and another 57 million have pre-diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"If our initial findings are confirmed, it is our hope that someday SHBG would serve as a critical screening tool for diabetes as well as a target for developing treatment and preventive measures," he said.
Dr. Robert Rapaport, chief of the division of pediatric endocrinology and diabetes at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, said much is still unknown about the precise association between SHBG and type 2 diabetes.
"SHBG is emerging from a role as just a carrier protein to being a player on its own," Rapaport said.
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