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World J Diabetes. 2012 Dec 15;3(12):196-200. doi: 10.4239/wjd.v3.i12.196.

Frontiers in research on maternal diabetes-induced neural tube defects: Past, present and future.

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Shyamasundar Sukanya, Boon Huat Bay, Samuel Sam Wah Tay, S Thameem Dheen, Department of Anatomy, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore 117597, Singapore.


Diabetes mellitus rightly regarded as a silent-epidemic is continually on the rise and estimated to have a global prevalence of 6.4 % as of 2010. Diabetes during pregnancy is a well known risk factor for congenital anomalies in various organ systems that contribute to neonatal mortality, including cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, genitourinary and neurological systems, among which the neural tube defects are frequently reported. Over the last two to three decades, several groups around the world have focussed on identifying the molecular cues and cellular changes resulting in altered gene expression and the morphological defects and in diabetic pregnancy. In recent years, the focus has gradually shifted to looking at pre-programmed changes and activation of epigenetic mechanisms that cause altered gene expression. While several theories such as oxidative stress, hypoxia, and apoptosis triggered due to hyperglycemic conditions have been proposed and proven for being the cause for these defects, the exact mechanism or the link between how high glucose can alter gene expression/transcriptome and activate epigenetic mechanisms is largely unknown. Although preconceptual control of diabetes, (i.e., managing glucose levels during pregnancy), and in utero therapies has been proposed as an effective solution for managing diabetes during pregnancy, the impact that a fluctuating glycemic index can have on foetal development has not been evaluated in detail. A tight glycemic control started before pregnancy has shown to reduce the incidence of congenital abnormalities in diabetic mothers. On the other hand, a tight glycemic control after organogenesis and embryogenesis have begun may prove insufficient to prevent or reverse the onset of congenital defects. The importance of determining the extent to which glycemic levels in diabetic mothers should be regulated is critical as foetal hypoglycemia has also been shown to be teratogenic. Finally, the major question remaining is if this whole issue is negligible and not worthy of investigation as the efficient management of diabetes during pregnancy is well in place in many countries.


Congenital anomalies; Epigenetics; Epigenome; Hyperglycemia; Hypoxia; Maternal diabetes; Neural stem cells; Neural tube defects; Oxidative stress

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