A total of 51 differential metabolites were identified between cases and controls. Of these, 35 were significantly associated with diabetes risk in the multivariate analysis after false discovery rate adjustment, such as increased branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine), non-esterified fatty acids (palmitic acid, stearic acid, oleic acid and linoleic acid) and lysophosphatidylinositol (LPI) species (16:1, 18:1, 18:2, 20:3, 20:4 and 22:6). A combination of six metabolites including proline, glycerol, aminomalonic acid, LPI (16:1), 3-carboxy-4-methyl-5-propyl-2-furanpropionic acid and urea showed the potential to predict type 2 diabetes in at-risk individuals with high baseline HbA1c levels (≥6.5% [47.5 mmol/mol]) with an AUC of 0.935. Combined lysophosphatidylglycerol (LPG) (12:0) and LPI (16:1) also showed the potential to predict type 2 diabetes in individuals with normal baseline HbA1c levels (<6.5% [47.5 mmol/mol]; AUC = 0.781).
Our findings show that branched-chain amino acids and NEFA are potent predictors of diabetes development in Chinese adults. Our results also indicate the potential of lysophospholipids for predicting diabetes.