Diabetes is linked to various long-term complications in adults, such as neuropathy, nephropathy and diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes poses additional risks for pregnant women, because glucose passes across the placenta, and excess maternal glucose can result in diabetic embryopathy. While many studies have examined the teratogenic effects of maternal diabetes on fetal heart development, little is known about the consequences of maternal hyperglycemia on the development of the embryonic retina. To address this question, we investigated retinal development in two models of embryonic hyperglycemia in zebrafish. Strikingly, we found that hyperglycemic larvae displayed a significant reduction in photoreceptors and horizontal cells, whereas other retinal neurons were not affected. We also observed reactive gliosis and abnormal optokinetic responses in hyperglycemic larvae. Further analysis revealed delayed retinal cell differentiation in hyperglycemic embryos that coincided with increased reactive oxygen species (ROS). Our results suggest that embryonic hyperglycemia causes abnormal retinal development via altered timing of cell differentiation and ROS production, which is accompanied by visual defects. Further studies using zebrafish models of hyperglycemia will allow us to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying these effects.

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