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Pharmacol Toxicol. 1998 Sep;83(3):104-11.

Apoptosis in embryos of diabetic rats.

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Department of Medical Cell Biology, Uppsala University, Sweden.


The aim of the present study was to determine whether maternal diabetes affects rat embryo and yolk sac apoptosis during the postimplantation period. Severely malformed and growth-retarded embryos of gestational day 12 from diabetic rats exhibited pronounced DNA laddering on agarose gels. On the other hand, no DNA laddering could be observed in any of the non-malformed embryos from control and diabetic rats, or in their corresponding yolk sacs. Analysis of embryos of gestational day 10 revealed only a few scattered TUNEL positive cells mainly located in the allantois, the foregut epithelium, the cranial neuroepithelium and in the cranial mesenchyme. Embryonic tissue of gestational day 12 showed numerous aggregates of TUNEL-positive cells, indicating developmental remodelling of multiple organs. Analysis of non-malformed embryos of day 10 and 12 revealed a distribution and frequency of TUNEL positive cells unaffected by the diabetic state of the mother on both days. In vitro incubation (2-8 hr) of normal day-12 yolk sacs resulted in strong DNA laddering, but not in the corresponding embryos. Dispersed yolk sac cells generated higher levels of reactive oxygen species than dispersed embryonic cells. Reactive oxygen species levels in both embryonic and yolk sac cells were unaffected by the diabetic state of the mother. Moreover, immunoblot analysis showed high Bcl-2 and undetectable caspase-1 levels in embryos from both normal and diabetic rats and low Bcl-2 and high caspase-1 levels in the corresponding yolk sacs. Immunohistochemical analysis of embryos demonstrated caspase-1-reactivity in a small subpopulation of cells located in proximity to TUNEL-positive cells. We conclude that the inherent capacity of embryonic cells to enter apoptosis in vitro is low as compared to yolk sac cells, and that wide-spread apoptosis is not likely to play a major role in diabetes-induced dysmorphogenesis but rather in early phases of resorption of severely malformed and developmentally retarded embryos.

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