J. Intern. Med. 290 (4) 855-865 [2021-10-00; online 2021-07-26]
Apoptosis is central in both diabetes and atherosclerosis, linked to pancreatic beta cell death and plaque progression. Circulating Caspase-3 has also been associated with diabetes and coronary calcium score. Here, we explored if soluble Caspase-3 (sCaspase-3) is associated with cardio-metabolic risk factors and predicts incidence of diabetes and coronary artery disease (CAD). Clinical data and plasma from 4637 individuals from the Malmö Diet and Cancer cohort were studied. Plasma sCaspase-3 was measured by a Proximity Extension Assay. National registers were used to identify diabetes and CAD events during follow-up. Type 2 diabetes risk variants and expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) for sCaspase-3 were retrieved from the DIAGRAM consortium and the Genotype-Tissue Expression project. HbA1c was the factor with the strongest association with sCaspase-3 (r = 0.18, P = 1.3x10-36 ). During follow-up 666 individuals developed diabetes and 648 individuals suffered from CAD. Increasing sCaspase-3 was associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes (hazard ratio (HR) 1.18 per 1unit; P = 7 × 10-5 ) and CAD (HR 1.2 per 1 unit, P = 1 × 10-4 ) during follow-up. A genetic variant rs60780116, located upstream of CASP3, showed strong association with type 2 diabetes (OR 1.06, 95%CI 1.04-1.07, P = 8.4 × 10-11 ). An eQTL was identified between this variant and gene expression of CASP3, where the allele positively correlated with type 2 diabetes was associated with increased CASP3 expression in blood. The present study provides evidence for plasma sCaspase-3 as a marker of cardio-metabolic risk factors and as a predictor of future diabetes and CAD in a cohort without cardiovascular disease or diabetes at baseline.