Maternal diabetes is associated with an increased rate of spontaneous abortions, chromosomal aberrations and congenital anomalies in both humans and laboratory animals. Little information is available, however, regarding its impact on the fetal brain.
Using Carbon 13 stable isotopes and magnetic resonance spectroscopy Prof. Aviva Lapidot and her team in the Institute’s Organic Chemistry Department have conducted pioneering studies showing how diabetes can affect the brain.
In particular, they were the first to demonstrate that diabetes in the pregnant mother has adverse effects on the brain of her fetus. It reduces glucose utilization and increases the uptake of other energy “fuels” known as ketone bodies, which are toxic to the fetus. Made of fatty acid degradation products formed in the liver of the diabetic mother, the ketone bodies are transported first from the maternal to the fetal circulation and then to the fetal brain, via the blood-brain barrier. Lapidot’s research aims to clarify the origins of this toxicity and eventually help protect the fetus against it.
Tight glycemic control during diabetic pregnancy has been shown to significantly reduce the occurrence of congenital malformations and other effects of maternal diabetes on the offspring. However, intensive insulin therapy often causes recurrent acute maternal hypoglycemia, which is harmful to the developing fetus.
Lapidot’s team is currently examining the implications of poorly controlled, versus carefully controlled, maternal diabetes on both maternal and fetal brain glucose metabolism, including the potential for neonatal neurological complications.