In ovo hyperglycemia causes congenital limb defects in chicken embryos via disruption of cell proliferation and apoptosis.
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While the correlation between diabetes during pregnancy and birth defects is well-established, how hyperglycemia causes developmental abnormalities remains unclear. In this study, we developed a novel "hyperglycemic" chicken embryonic model by administrating various doses of glucose to fertilized eggs at embryonic stages HH16 or HH24. When the embryos were collected at HH35, the LD50 was 1.57g/Kg under HH16 treatment and 0.93g/Kg under HH24 treatment, indicating that "hyperglycemic" environments can be lethal for the embryos. When exposed to a dose equal to or higher than 1g/Kg glucose at HH16 or HH24, more than 40% of the surviving chicken embryos displayed heart defects and/or limb defects. The limb defects were associated with proliferation defects of both the wing and leg buds indicated by reduced numbers of p-H3S10 labeled cells. These limb defects were also associated with ectopic apoptosis in the leg bud and expression changes of key apoptotic genes. Furthermore, glucose treatment induced decreased expression of genes involved in Shh-signaling, chondrogenesis, and digit patterning in the limb bud. In summary, our data demonstrated that a high-glucose environment induces congenital heart and limb defects associated with disrupted cell proliferation and apoptosis, possibly through depressed Shh-signaling.