New development of the yolk sac theory in diabetic embryopathy: Molecular mechanism and link to structural birth defects

Daoyin Dong, E. Albert Reece, Xue Lin, Yanqing Wu, Natalia Ariasvillela, Peixin Yang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Maternal diabetes mellitus is a significant risk factor for structural birth defects, including congenital heart defects and neural tube defects. With the rising prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus and obesity in women of childbearing age, diabetes mellitus-induced birth defects have become an increasingly significant public health problem. Maternal diabetes mellitus in vivo and high glucose in vitro induce yolk sac injuries by damaging the morphologic condition of cells and altering the dynamics of organelles. The yolk sac vascular system is the first system to develop during embryogenesis; therefore, it is the most sensitive to hyperglycemia. The consequences of yolk sac injuries include impairment of nutrient transportation because of vasculopathy. Although the functional relationship between yolk sac vasculopathy and structural birth defects has not yet been established, a recent study reveals that the quality of yolk sac vasculature is related inversely to embryonic malformation rates. Studies in animal models have uncovered key molecular intermediates of diabetic yolk sac vasculopathy, which include hypoxia-inducible factor-1α, apoptosis signal-regulating kinase 1, and its inhibitor thioredoxin-1, c-Jun-N-terminal kinases, nitric oxide, and nitric oxide synthase. Yolk sac vasculopathy is also associated with abnormalities in arachidonic acid and myo-inositol. Dietary supplementation with fatty acids that restore lipid levels in the yolk sac lead to a reduction in diabetes mellitus-induced malformations. Although the role of the human yolk in embryogenesis is less extensive than in rodents, nevertheless, human embryonic vasculogenesis is affected negatively by maternal diabetes mellitus. Mechanistic studies have identified potential therapeutic targets for future intervention against yolk sac vasculopathy, birth defects, and other complications associated with diabetic pregnancies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-202
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican journal of obstetrics and gynecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016


  • embryopathy
  • maternal diabetes mellitus
  • vasculopathy
  • yolk sac

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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