Previous studies have suggested that reactive oxygen species (ROS) are mediators in the teratogenic process of diabetic pregnancy. In an animal model for diabetic pregnancy, offspring of the H rat strain show minor dysmorphogenesis when the mother is diabetic, whereas the offspring of diabetic rats of a sister strain, U, display major morphologic malformations. Earlier studies have shown that embryonic catalase activity is higher in the H than in the U strain, and maternal diabetes increases this difference in activity. The aim of this study was to characterize the influence of genetic predisposition on diabetic embryopathy by comparing the mRNA levels of ROS-metabolizing enzymes in the two strains. We determined the mRNA levels of catalase, glutathione peroxidase, gamma-glutamylcystein-synthetase, glutathione reductase, and superoxide dismutase (CuZn-SOD and Mn-SOD) in day 11 embryos of normal and diabetic H and U rats using semiquantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. The mRNA levels of catalase and Mn-SOD were increased in H embryos as a response to maternal diabetes, and no differences were found for the other genes. Sequence analysis of the catalase promoter indicated that the difference in mRNA levels may result from different regulation of transcription. Sequence analysis of the catalase cDNA revealed no differences between the two strains in the translated region, suggesting that the previously observed difference in the electrophoretic mobility in zymograms is due to posttranslational modifications. An impaired expression of scavenging enzymes in response to ROS excess can thus be an integral part of a genetic predisposition to embryonic dysmorphogenesis.

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