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Original research
Associations between metabolites and pancreatic cancer risk in a large prospective epidemiological study


Objective To assess whether prediagnostic metabolites were associated with incident pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) in a prospective cohort study.

Design We conducted an untargeted analysis of 554 known metabolites measured in prediagnostic serum (up to 24 years) to determine their association with incident PDAC in a nested case-control study of male smokers (372 matched case-control sets) and an independent nested case-control study that included women and non-smokers (107 matched sets). Metabolites were measured using Orbitrap Elite or Q-Exactive high-resolution/accurate mass spectrometers. Controls were matched to cases by age, sex, race, date of blood draw, and follow-up time. We used conditional logistic regression adjusted for age to calculate ORs and 95% CIs for a 1 SD increase in log-metabolite level separately in each cohort and combined the two ORs using a fixed-effects meta-analysis.

Results Thirty-one metabolites were significantly associated with PDAC at a false discovery rate <0.05 with 12 metabolites below the Bonferroni-corrected threshold (p<9.04×10–5). Similar associations were observed in both cohorts. The dipeptides glycylvaline, aspartylphenylalanine, pyroglutamylglycine, phenylalanylphenylalanine, phenylalanylleucine and tryptophylglutamate and amino acids aspartate and glutamate were positively while the dipeptides tyrosylglutamine and α-glutamyltyrosine, fibrinogen cleavage peptide DSGEGDFXAEGGGVR and glutathione-related amino acid cysteine-glutathione disulfide were inversely associated with PDAC after Bonferroni correction. Five top metabolites demonstrated significant time-varying associations (p<0.023) with the strongest associations observed 10–15 years after participants’ blood collection and attenuated thereafter.

Conclusion Our results suggest that prediagnostic metabolites related to subclinical disease, γ-glutamyl cycle metabolism and adiposity/insulin resistance are associated with PDAC.

  • cancer epidemiology
  • epidemiology
  • pancreatic cancer

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