Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
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Women with pre-gestational diabetes have a higher risk of producing children with congenital heart defects (CHDs), caused predominantly by hyperglycemia-induced oxidative stress. In this study, we evaluated if exercise during pregnancy could mitigate oxidative stress and reduce the incidence of CHDs in the offspring of diabetic mice. Female mice were treated with streptozotocin to induce pre-gestational diabetes, then mated with healthy males to produce offspring. They were also given access to running wheels 1 week before mating and allowed to exercise voluntarily until E18.5. Heart morphology, gene expression, and oxidative stress were assessed in foetal hearts. Maternal voluntary exercise results in a significantly lower incidence of CHDs from 59.5% to 25%. Additionally, diabetes-induced defects in coronary artery and capillary morphogenesis were also lower with exercise. Myocardial cell proliferation and epithelial-mesenchymal transition at E12.5 was significantly lower with pre-gestational diabetes which was mitigated with maternal exercise. Cardiac gene expression of Notch1, Snail1, Gata4 and Cyclin D1 was significantly higher in the embryos of diabetic mice that exercised compared to the non-exercised group. Furthermore, maternal exercise produced lower reactive oxygen species (ROS) and oxidative stress in the foetal heart. In conclusion, maternal exercise mitigates ROS and oxidative damage in the foetal heart, and results in a lower incidence of CHDs in the offspring of pre-gestational diabetes. Exercise may be an effective intervention to compliment clinical management and further minimize CHD risk in mothers with diabetes.