Research may provide insight to cause of birth defects among babies born to diabetic mothers

NEW YORK — A new study conducted by a team at the Joslin Diabetes Center suggested that a certain enzyme could cause birth defects among babies born to women with diabetes.

The enzyme, known as AMP kinase, could cause babies to be at an increased risk of developing neural tube effects (i.e., such conditions as spinal bifida) and certain heart defects, because it blocks the expression of a gene known as Pax3, which helps the neural tube form.

"The stimulation of a metabolism-sensing enzyme that can regulate specific genes explains how oxidative stress, which is generated throughout the embryo during maternal hyperglycemia, causes malformation of specific embryo structures," said Mary Loeken, who headed the study. "We now know that we must do whatever we can to prevent AMPK from being stimulated."

The results were published Monday in Diabetologia.

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