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Metformin is widely used for diabetes and prediabetes management, but recent research indicates potential cognitive development effects on children if administered during pregnancy.

Diabetes treatment affects fetal development 

Researchers from the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrücke (DIfE) investigated the effects of metformin, a medication commonly used to treat diabetes, on pregnant women with gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes affects around one in six pregnant women worldwide and poses risks to both mothers and their unborn children.

In the United States, up to 10 percent of pregnancies are affected by gestational diabetes annually, leading to potential long-term complications such as Type 2 diabetes in mothers and metabolic disorders and obesity in children.

Metformin is an oral medication used to reduce blood sugar levels by decreasing liver glucose production and improving insulin sensitivity in cells. Although effective in adults, its potential impact on fetal development, including brain development, due to its ability to cross the placenta during pregnancy, remains largely unknown.

The study in the Molecular Metabolism journal investigated whether metformin’s benefits extend to offspring and its long-term effects on neuronal circuit development in the hypothalamus, crucial for regulating energy balance. Using mice models of severe obesity and gestational diabetes, researchers treated pregnant mice with insulin, metformin, or a placebo during the equivalent of the third trimester of human pregnancy.

Antidiabetic treatment during postnatal phase alters hormone level of child

Research findings indicate that although metformin shows favorable effects on pregnant mice, it does not offer similar advantages to their offspring. Dr. Rachel Lippert, a junior research group leader at DIfE, highlights that administering antidiabetic treatment during the early postnatal phase leads to notable changes in offspring weight gain and hormonal levels, which are heavily influenced by the mother’s metabolic condition.

The research noted sex-specific alterations in hypothalamus signaling pathways in mice due to exposure to metformin, impacting energy regulation. Dr. Lippert emphasizes the importance of educating about gestational diabetes and implementing preventive measures. Proactive management of lifestyle and diet could enhance treatment potential for gestational diabetes. Proactive management of lifestyle and diet could enhance treatment potential for gestational diabetes.