Previous studies have suggested that the metabolism of arachidonic acid and radical oxygen species (ROS) are altered in diabetes and that these disturbances may induce severe embryonic dysmorphogenesis in diabetic pregnancy. We tested this hypothesis by studying whether an inhibition of the rate-limiting enzyme of prostaglandin biosynthesis, cyclooxygenase (COX), caused developmental disturbances analogous to those seen in embryos exposed to high glucose concentration. Whether antioxidants could prevent such developmental alterations was also investigated. Whole embryo culture was used in which day-9 embryos were exposed to high concentrations of glucose, arachidonic acid, prostaglandin (PG)E2, COX inhibitors, and antioxidants for 48 h. Increased glucose concentration (from 10 to 30 mmol/l) caused embryonic dysmorphogenesis, and addition of either 60 pmol/l arachidonic acid or 280 nmol/l PGE2 largely protected the embryo from this maldevelopment. Furthermore, exposure to the COX inhibitors indomethacin (200 micromol/l) or acetylsalicylic acid (700 micromol/l) in 10 mmol/l glucose concentration yielded embryonic dysmorphogenesis similar to that caused by 30 mmol/l glucose. Supplementation of either arachidonic acid or PGE2 to the culture medium with COX inhibitors in low glucose rectified the embryonic development, and PGE2 supplementation also normalized the development of embryos cultured with COX inhibitors in high glucose concentration. Interestingly, the antioxidants superoxide dismutase (SOD) and N-acetylcysteine (NAC) were each able to diminish the dysmorphogenesis induced by the COX inhibitors, at doses previously shown to diminish glucose-induced embryonic damage in the same in vitro culture system. In conclusion, the present study shows that a high glucose concentration disturbs embryonic development and that this disturbance may be partly mediated via altered metabolism of arachidonic acid and ROS in the embryo.

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