BACKGROUND: GlycA is a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy biomarker that predicts risk of disease from myriad causes. It is heterogeneous; arising from five circulating glycoproteins with dynamic concentrations: alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT), alpha-1-acid glycoprotein (AGP), haptoglobin (HP), transferrin (TF), and alpha-1-antichymotrypsin (AACT). The contributions of each glycoprotein to the disease and mortality risks predicted by GlycA remain unknown.
METHODS: We trained imputation models for AAT, AGP, HP, and TF from NMR metabolite measurements in 626 adults from a population cohort with matched NMR and immunoassay data. Levels of AAT, AGP, and HP were estimated in 11,861 adults from two population cohorts with eight years of follow-up, then each biomarker was tested for association with all common endpoints. Whole blood gene expression data was used to identify cellular processes associated with elevated AAT.
RESULTS: Accurate imputation models were obtained for AAT, AGP, and HP but not for TF. While AGP had the strongest correlation with GlycA, our analysis revealed variation in imputed AAT levels was the most predictive of morbidity and mortality for the widest range of diseases over the eight year follow-up period, including heart failure (meta-analysis hazard ratio = 1.60 per standard deviation increase of AAT, P-value = 1×10-10), influenza and pneumonia (HR = 1.37, P = 6×10-10), and liver diseases (HR = 1.81, P = 1×10-6). Transcriptional analyses revealed association of elevated AAT with diverse inflammatory immune pathways.
CONCLUSIONS: This study clarifies the molecular underpinnings of the GlycA biomarker's associated disease risk, and indicates a previously unrecognised association between elevated AAT and severe disease onset and mortality.