Diabetic embryopathy: a developmental perspective from fertilization to adulthood

Mol Syndromol. 2013 Feb;4(1-2):74-86. doi: 10.1159/000345205.


Maternal diabetes mellitus is one of the strongest human teratogens. Despite recent advances in the fields of clinical embryology, experimental teratology and preventive medicine, diabetes-related perturbations of the maternofetal unit maintain a considerable impact on the Healthcare System. Classic consequences of prenatal exposure to hyperglycemia encompass (early) spontaneous abortions, perinatal death and malformations. The spectrum of related malformations comprises some recurrent blastogenic monotopic patterns, i.e. holoprosencephaly, caudal dysgenesis and oculoauriculovertebral spectrum, as well as pleiotropic syndromes, i.e. femoral hypoplasia-unusual face syndrome. Despite this, most malformed fetuses display multiple blastogenic defects of the VACTERL type, whose (apparently) casual combination preclude recognizing recurrent patterns, but accurately testifies to their developmental stage at onset. With the application of developmental biology in modern medicine, the effects of diabetes on the unborn patient are expanded to include the predisposition to develop insulin resistance in adulthood. The mechanisms underlying the transgenerational correlation between maternal diabetes and proneness to adult disorders in the offspring remain unclear, and the epigenetic plasticity may represent the missing link. In this scenario, a development-driven summary of the multifaced consequences of maternal diabetes on fertility and child health may add a practical resource to the repertoire of available information on early stages of embryogenesis.

Keywords: Blastogenesis; DOHeD; Diabetes mellitus; Epigenetics; Spontaneous abortion; VACTERL.