The effect of feeding a low iron diet prior to and during gestation on fetal and maternal iron homeostasis in two strains of rat

Ruth Cornock, Lorraine Gambling, Simon C Langley-Evans, Harry J McArdle, Sarah McMullen

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18 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy is a global problem, with short and long term consequences for maternal and child health. Animal models have demonstrated that the developing fetus is vulnerable to maternal iron restriction, impacting on postnatal metabolic and blood pressure regulation. Whilst long-term outcomes are similar across different models, the commonality in mechanistic events across models is unknown. This study examined the impact of iron deficiency on maternal and fetal iron homeostasis in two strains of rat.

METHODS: Wistar (n=20) and Rowett Hooded Lister (RHL, n=19) rats were fed a control or low iron diet for 4 weeks prior to and during pregnancy. Tissues were collected at day 21 of gestation for analysis of iron content and mRNA/protein expression of regulatory proteins and transporters.

RESULTS: A reduction in maternal liver iron content in response to the low iron diet was associated with upregulation of transferrin receptor expression and a reduction in hepcidin expression in the liver of both strains, which would be expected to promote increased iron absorption across the gut and increased turnover of iron in the liver. Placental expression of transferrin and DMT1+IRE were also upregulated, indicating adaptive responses to ensure availability of iron to the fetus. There were considerable differences in hepatic maternal and fetal iron content between strains. The higher quantity of iron present in livers from Wistar rats was not explained by differences in expression of intestinal iron transporters, and may instead reflect greater materno-fetal transfer in RHL rats as indicated by increased expression of placental iron transporters in this strain.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings demonstrate substantial differences in iron homeostasis between two strains of rat during pregnancy, with variable impact of iron deficiency on the fetus. Whilst common developmental processes and pathways have been observed across different models of nutrient restriction during pregnancy, this study demonstrates differences in maternal adaptation which may impact on the trajectory of the programmed response.

Original languageEnglish
Article number32
Number of pages9
JournalReproductive Biology and Endocrinology
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2013

Bibliographical note

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

This study was supported by the BBSRC project grant BB/F005245/1 and a BBSRC studentship awarded to RC. The authors acknowledge the support of the animal technicians within the Biosciences Resources Unit at the University of Nottingham (Richard Plant, Carol Armett and Sarah Kirkland) and the Rowett Institute for Nutrition and Health (Donna Wallace and staff in the BSU), and Helen Hayes at the Rowett Institute for Nutrition and Health for laboratory assistance.


  • animals
  • blotting, Western
  • body weight
  • cation transport proteins
  • child
  • diet
  • female
  • fetal weight
  • fetus
  • gene expression regulation, developmental
  • gestational age
  • homeostasis
  • humans
  • iron
  • liver
  • male
  • maternal nutritional physiological phenomena
  • placenta
  • pregnancy
  • rats
  • rats, wistar
  • receptors, transferrin
  • reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction
  • species specificity


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