Chapter I. Pathogenesis and Function

Rev Diabet Stud, 2015, 12(3-4):233-242 DOI 10.1900/RDS.2015.12.233

Genetics of Type 2 Diabetes: It Matters From Which Parent We Inherit the Risk

Valeriya Lyssenko1,2, Leif Groop2, Rashmi B. Prasad2

1Steno Diabetes Center, Gentofte, Denmark
2Department of Clinical Sciences, Diabetes and Endocrinology, Clinical Research Centre, Lund University, Malmö, Sweden
Address correspondence to: Valeriya Lyssenko, e-mail:,


Type 2 diabetes (T2D) results from a co-occurrence of genes and environmental factors. There are more than 120 genetic loci suggested to be associated with T2D, or with glucose and insulin levels in European and multi-ethnic populations. Risk of T2D is higher in the offspring if the mother rather than the father has T2D. Genetically, this can be associated with a unique parent-of-origin (PoO) transmission of risk alleles, and it relates to genetic programming during the intrauterine period, resulting in the inability to increase insulin secretion in response to increased demands imposed by insulin resistance later in life. Such PoO transmission is seen for variants in the KLF14, KCNQ1, GRB10, TCF7L2, THADA, and PEG3 genes. Here we describe T2D susceptibility genes associated with defects in insulin secretion, and thereby risk of overt T2D. This review emphasizes the need to consider distorted parental transmission of risk alleles by exploring the genetic risk of T2D.

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Rev Diabet Stud, 2015, 12(3-4):243-259 DOI 10.1900/RDS.2015.12.243

Novel Genetic Actors of Diabetes-Associated Microvascular Complications: Retinopathy, Kidney Disease and Neuropathy

Samaneh Davoudi, Lucia Sobrin

Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, 243 Charles Street, Boston, MA 02114, USA
Address correspondence to: Lucia Sobrin, e-mail:


Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus can lead to the common microvascular complications of diabetic retinopathy, kidney disease, and neuropathy. Diabetic patients do not universally develop these complications. Long duration of diabetes and poor glycemic control explain a lot of the variability in the development of microvascular complications, but not all. Genetic factors account for some of the remaining variability because of the heritability and familial clustering of these complications. There have been a large number of investigations, including linkage studies, candidate gene studies, and genome-wide association studies, all of which have sought to identify the specific variants that increase susceptibility. For retinopathy, several genome-wide association studies have been performed in small or midsize samples, but no reproducible loci across the studies have been identified. For diabetic kidney disease, genome-wide association studies in larger samples have been performed, and loci for this complication are beginning to emerge. However, validation of the existing discoveries, and further novel discoveries in larger samples is ongoing. The amount of genetic research into diabetic neuropathy has been very limited, and much is dedicated to the understanding of genetic risk factors only. Collaborations that pool samples and aim to detect phenotype classifications more precisely are promising avenues for a better explanation of the genetics of diabetic microvascular complications.

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Rev Diabet Stud, 2015, 12(3-4):260-276 DOI 10.1900/RDS.2015.12.260

Beyond the Protein-Coding Sequence: Noncoding RNAs in the Pathogenesis of Type 2 Diabetes

Johanna K. DiStefano

Translational Genomics Research Institute, Phoenix, AZ 85004, USA


Diabetes mellitus results from a deficiency or failure to maintain normal glucose homeostasis. The most common form of the disease is type 2 diabetes (T2D), a progressive metabolic disorder characterized by elevated glucose levels that develops in response to either multi-organ insulin resistance or insufficient insulin secretion from pancreatic β-cells. Although the etiology of T2D is complex, many factors are known to contribute to defects of glucose homeostasis, including obesity, unhealthy lifestyle choices, genetic susceptibility, and environmental exposures. In addition to these factors, noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) have been recently implicated in the pathogenesis of T2D, playing roles in several of the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying the disease, particularly in insulin-sensitive tissues such as pancreatic β-cells, liver, muscle, and adipose tissue. A growing number of publications demonstrate that polymorphisms in ncRNAs or their target genes may represent a new class of genetic variation contributing to the development of T2D. This review summarizes both the current state of knowledge of ncRNAs, specifically microRNAs (miRNAs), involved in the regulation of β-cell function, insulin sensitivity, and insulin action in peripheral organs. The role of genetic variation in miRNAs or miRNA binding sites in the pathogenesis of T2D is also discussed. While far less is known about the impact of long ncRNAs (lncRNAs) in the development of T2D, emerging evidence suggests that these molecules may be able to contribute to β-cell dysfunction in response to hyperglycemia. This article provides an overview of the studies conducted to date in this field, focusing on lncRNAs that are dysregulated in human pancreatic islets.

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Rev Diabet Stud, 2015, 12(3-4):277-298 DOI 10.1900/RDS.2015.12.277

Genetic Determination of Serum Levels of Diabetes-Associated Adipokines

Dorit Schleinitz1,2

1Integrated Research and Treatment Center AdiposityDiseases, University of Leipzig, Liebigstr. 21, 04103 Leipzig, Germany
2Department of Medicine, University of Leipzig, 04103 Leipzig, Germany


Adipose tissue secretes an abundance of proteins. Some of these proteins are known as adipokines and adipose-derived hormones which have been linked with metabolic disorders, including type 2 diabetes, and even with cancer. Variance in serum adipokine concentration is often closely associated with an increase (obesity) or decrease (lipodystrophy) in fat tissue mass, and it is affected by age, gender, and localization of the adipose tissue. However, there may be genetic variants which, in consequence, influence the serum concentration of a certain adipokine, and thereby promote metabolic disturbances or, with regard to the “protective” allele, exert beneficial effects. This review focuses on the genetic determination of serum levels of the following adipokines: adiponectin, chemerin, leptin, progranulin, resistin, retinol binding protein 4, vaspin, adipsin, apelin, and omentin. The article reports on the latest findings from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and candidate gene studies, showing variants located in/nearby the adipokine genes and other (non-receptor) genes. An extra chapter highlights adipokine-receptor variants. Epigenetic studies on adipokines are also addressed.

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Rev Diabet Stud, 2015, 12(3-4):299-319 DOI 10.1900/RDS.2015.12.299

Complex Genetics of Type 2 Diabetes and Effect Size: What have We Learned from Isolated Populations?

Anup K. Nair, Leslie J. Baier

Diabetes Molecular Genetics Section, Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Phoenix, Arizona 85004, USA


Genetic studies in large outbred populations have documented a complex, highly polygenic basis for type 2 diabetes (T2D). Most of the variants currently known to be associated with T2D risk have been identified in large studies that included tens of thousands of individuals who are representative of a single major ethnic group such as European, Asian, or African. However, most of these variants have only modest effects on the risk for T2D; identification of definitive 'causal variant' or 'causative loci' is typically lacking. Studies in isolated populations offer several advantages over outbred populations despite being, on average, much smaller in sample size. For example, reduced genetic variability, enrichment of rare variants, and a more uniform environment and lifestyle, which are hallmarks of isolated populations, can reduce the complexity of identifying disease-associated genes. To date, studies in isolated populations have provided valuable insight into the genetic basis of T2D by providing both a deeper understanding of previously identified T2D-associated variants (e.g. demonstrating that variants in KCNQ1 have a strong parent-of-origin effect) or providing novel variants (e.g. ABCC8 in Pima Indians, TBC1D4 in the Greenlandic population, HNF1A in Canadian Oji-Cree). This review summarizes advancements in genetic studies of T2D in outbred and isolated populations, and provides information on whether the difference in the prevalence of T2D in different populations (Pima Indians vs. non-Hispanic Whites and non-Hispanic Whites vs. non-Hispanic Blacks) can be explained by the difference in risk allele frequencies of established T2D variants.

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Rev Diabet Stud, 2015, 12(3-4):320-329 DOI 10.1900/RDS.2015.12.320

Diabetes in Population Isolates: Lessons from Greenland

Niels Grarup1, Ida Moltke2, Anders Albrechtsen2, Torben Hansen1

1Section for Metabolic Genetics, The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, 2200 Copenhagen, Denmark
2The Bioinformatics Centre, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, 2200 Copenhagen, Denmark
Address correspondence to: Torben Hansen, The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 1, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark, e-mail:


Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is an increasing health problem worldwide with particularly high occurrence in specific subpopulations and ancestry groups. The high prevalence of T2D is caused both by changes in lifestyle and genetic predisposition. A large number of studies have sought to identify the genetic determinants of T2D in large, open populations such as Europeans and Asians. However, studies of T2D in population isolates are gaining attention as they provide several advantages over open populations in genetic disease studies, including increased linkage disequilibrium, homogeneous environmental exposure, and increased allele frequency. We recently performed a study in the small, historically isolated Greenlandic population, in which the prevalence of T2D has increased to more than 10%. In this study, we identified a common nonsense variant in TBC1D4, which has a population-wide impact on glucose-stimulated plasma glucose, serum insulin levels, and T2D. The variant defines a specific subtype of non-autoimmune diabetes characterized by decreased post-prandial glucose uptake and muscular insulin resistance. These and other recent findings in population isolates illustrate the value of performing medical genetic studies in genetically isolated populations. In this review, we describe some of the advantages of performing genetic studies of T2D and related cardio-metabolic traits in a population isolate like the Greenlandic, and we discuss potentials and perspectives for future research into T2D in this population.

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Rev Diabet Stud, 2015, 12(3-4):330-348 DOI 10.1900/RDS.2015.12.330

When is it MODY? Challenges in the Interpretation of Sequence Variants in MODY Genes

Sara Althari1, Anna L. Gloyn1,2,3

1Oxford Centre for Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism, University of Oxford, UK
2Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, UK
3Oxford NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, Churchill Hospital, Oxford, UK
Address correspondence to: Anna L. Gloyn, Oxford Centre for Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism, Churchill Hospital, Headington, Oxford OX3 7LE, UK, e-mail:


The genomics revolution has raised more questions than it has provided answers. Big data from large population-scale resequencing studies are increasingly deconstructing classic notions of Mendelian disease genetics, which support a simplistic correlation between mutational severity and phenotypic outcome. The boundaries are being blurred as the body of evidence showing monogenic disease-causing alleles in healthy genomes, and in the genomes of individu-als with increased common complex disease risk, continues to grow. In this review, we focus on the newly emerging challenges which pertain to the interpretation of sequence variants in genes implicated in the pathogenesis of maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY), a presumed mono-genic form of diabetes characterized by Mendelian inheritance. These challenges highlight the complexities surrounding the assignments of pathogenicity, in particular to rare protein-alerting variants, and bring to the forefront some profound clinical diagnostic implications. As MODY is both genetically and clinically heterogeneous, an accurate molecular diagnosis and cautious extrapolation of sequence data are critical to effective disease management and treatment. The biological and translational value of sequence information can only be attained by adopting a multitude of confirmatory analyses, which interrogate variant implication in disease from every possible angle. Indeed, studies which have effectively detected rare damaging variants in known MODY genes in normoglycemic individuals question the existence of a sin-gle gene mutation scenario: does monogenic diabetes exist when the genetic culprits of MODY have been systematical-ly identified in individuals without MODY?

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