The increasing prevalence of type 2 diabetes poses a major challenge to societies worldwide. Blood-based factors like serum proteins are in contact with every organ in the body to mediate global homeostasis and may thus directly regulate complex processes such as aging and the development of common chronic diseases. We applied a data-driven proteomics approach, measuring serum levels of 4,137 proteins in 5,438 elderly Icelanders and identified 536 proteins associated with prevalent and/or incident type 2 diabetes. We validated a subset of the observed associations in an independent case-control study of type 2 diabetes.
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These protein associations provide novel biological insights into the molecular mechanisms that are dysregulated prior to and following the onset of type 2 diabetes and can be detected in serum. A bi-directional two-sample Mendelian randomization analysis indicated that serum changes of at least 23 proteins are downstream of the disease or its genetic liability, while 15 proteins were supported as having a causal role in type 2 diabetes.