The mechanism of diabetic embryopathy was investigated using in vitro experiments in a rat embryo culture system and in streptozotocin-induced diabetic pregnant rats. The energy metabolism in embryos during early organogenesis was characterized by a high rate of glucose utilization and lactic acid production (anaerobic glycolysis). Embryos uninterruptedly underwent glycolysis. When embryos were cultured with hypoglycemic serum, such embryos showed malformations in association with a significant reduction in glycolysis. In a diabetic environment, hyperglycemia caused an increased glucose flux into embryonic cells without a down-regulation of GLUT1 and an increased metabolic overload on mitochondria, leading to an increased formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Activation of the hexamine pathway, subsequently occurring with increased protein carbonylation and increased lipid peroxidation, also contributed to the increased generation of ROS. Hyperglycemia also caused a myo-inositol deficiency with a competitive inhibition of ambient glucose, which might have been associated with a diminished phosphoinositide signal transduction. In the presence of low activity of the mitochondrial oxidative glucose metabolism, the ROS scavenging system in the embryo was not sufficiently developed. Diabetes further weakened the antioxidant system, especially, the enzyme for GSH synthesis, gamma-GCS, thereby reducing the GSH concentration. GSH depletion also disturbed prostaglandin biosynthesis. An increased formation of ROS in a diminished GSH-dependent antioxidant system may, therefore, play an important role in the development of embryonic malformations in diabetes.