Iron is an important micronutrient involved in several metabolic processes, and excessive iron is a risk factor for insulin resistance (IR) and diabetes. To define the genetic regulation of iron metabolism and its role in IR, we used gene expression, genotype, and insulin sensitivity data from an African American cohort (AAGMEx, N=256). Among the genes in a manually curated list of 62 transcripts representing iron homeostasis genes, expression of 32 in adipose tissue showed significant correlation with SI (p<0.01). The expression levels of transferrin (TF, β= 0.29, p=7.84 x 10-6) and ferritin heavy chain 1 (FTH1, β= -1.2, p=3.75 x 10-13) in adipose tissue were the most positively and negatively associated with SI, respectively. Observations were replicated in independent adipose tissue data sets from individuals of European ancestry (ARCA, N=99; METSIM, N=720). Among these SI-associated transcripts, the strongest cis-regulatory genetic variant (cis-eSNP) was for TF (rs6785596, β= 0.962, p=7.84 x 10-18) in adipose, but not in muscle or liver. To identify the role of TF in adipocytes, we downregulated its expression in a human adipocyte cell model (SGBS). Gene specific shRNA knockdown of TF caused differential expression (log2FC +/-0.4, probability>70%) of 465 genes, involved in mitochondrial function (CPT1B, UCP2), glucose transport (GLUT4), Wnt-pathway/insulin sensitivity (SFRP4, SFRP1), chemokine activity/cell-cell interaction (CXCL1, CXCL12, ICAM1), and genes with possible roles in obesity (CES1, RARRES2). Knockdown of TF mRNA in differentiated SGBS cells impaired mitochondrial respiration (49±10% reduction of maximal oxygen consumption rate) and caused a 34±4% reduction in maximal insulin-stimulated glucose uptake (p<0.05).

In summary, genetic regulation of transferrin expression in adipose tissue plays a novel role in regulating insulin sensitivity.


D. McClain: None. N.K. Sharma: None. F. Lorenzo: None. S. Jain: None. C.D. Langefeld: None. M.E. Comeau: None. L. Salaye: None. S.K. Das: None.

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