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Blood levels of proneurotensin, a precursor of the satiation hormone neurotensin, are associated with the development of breast cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, according to the results of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Neurotensin is an amino acid peptide primarily expressed in the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. It regulates satiety and breast cancer growth. Proneurotensin is a precursor to the hormone and researchers have speculated that it could be a marker of underlying disease.

Researchers from Sweden conducted a study to determine whether fasting levels of proneurotensin were associated with future risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and death. They measured proneurotensin in blood from 4,632 fasting participants of the population-based Malmo Diet and Cancer Study baseline examination 1991-1994 and then used various models to evaluate the relationship between baseline proneurotensin and subsequent events. The study had a long-term follow-up until 2009, with median follow-up ranging from 13.2 to 15.7 years, depending on the disease.

They found that proneurotensin was related to an increased risk of the diseases, especially in women. Women with elevated proneurotensin were at an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, death, and death from cardiovascular disease. The researchers speculated that elevated proneurotensin could be a marker of underlying disease susceptibility rather than subclinical disease. In other words, the elevated proneurotensin is not necessarily causative.

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The researchers noted that the relationship between proneurotensin and the three diseases was significant in women, but not men. The study marks the first time that a satiation hormone has been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and breast cancer in women. While obesity is a common risk for for all three conditions, the connection with proneurotensin and neurotensin is not explained by obesity.

Research will be ongoing to study the relationship between neurotensin and these diseases.


Melander O, Maisel AS, Almgren P, et al. Plasma proneurotensin and incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and mortality. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2012; 308(14): 1469-1475.

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