The effects of maternal diabetes on somatic development and activity of the polyol pathway were investigated during early and late gestation in a rat model for diabetic pregnancy. We studied embryo-fetal growth, mortality, and malformation rate in the offspring of nondiabetic rats and in the offspring of diabetic rats either treated with an aldose reductase inhibitor during gestation or left untreated. The numbers of embryo-fetal resorptions and malformations were significantly increased in the diabetic groups compared with the controls despite maternal treatment with the aldose reductase inhibitor. The sorbitol content of embryos and membranes from the diabetic rats in early gestation was increased 3–5 times over the control values. Similarly, elevated sorbitol levels were observed in the fetal livers and placentas of the diabetic rats in late gestation. Administration of the aldose reductase inhibitor to the pregnant diabetic rats normalized the sorbitol levels in the embryos and their membranes, whereas the sorbitol contents of the fetal livers and placentas were significantly lowered but not completely corrected. Furthermore, in the diabetic groups, no differences in sorbitol levels could be demonstrated between malformed and nonmalformed offspring. The results of this study suggest that enhanced polyol metabolism leading to increased sorbitol accumulation is present in the embryos of diabetic mothers as early as organogenesis. This accumulation is apparently not a major factor in the early developmental disturbances (e.g., growth perturbations and congenital malformations) of diabetic pregnancy.

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