Congenital anomalies occur up to four times more frequently in diabetic pregnancy than in the nondiabetic population. Although past work has shown that maternal hyperglycemia and hyperketonemia may increase embryonic abnormalities, recent experimental evidence suggests that low insulin levels may also contribute to diabetic embryopathy. This study investigated the effects of guinea pig serum (whose insulin is inactive in rat systems) on rat embryonic growth and development in culture. Supplementation of guinea pig serum with pork insulin at low (1 ng/ml) and high (5 ng/ml) physiological concentrations and insulinlike growth factors (IGF) I and II were also studied. Culture of rat embryos from the early headfold stage in guinea pig serum resulted in poor embryonic growth and development with a 92% rate of anomalies. Supplementation of guinea pig serum with zinc-binding pork insulin significantly improved rat embryonic growth and development (46% anomaly rate) especially between the first 5 and 21 h of the period of organogenesis. This evidence supports our most recent findings that low insulin levels, as encountered in untreated diabetic pregnancy, may contribute to the increased risk of congenital abnormality. Insulin at low physiological concentrations improved growth, whereas higher physiological concentrations were required to increase growth and development. IGF-I or IGF-II supplementation improved rat embryonic growth and development but failed to match that of the controls, indicating that other growth factors including insulin may also be required.

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