Iron deficiency during pregnancy has many effects on both the mother and her developing foetus. These can be both short and long term. One effect is an alteration in fatty acid metabolism and we hypothesised that these changes may result in alterations in membrane function and structure. In order to test this hypothesis, we measured osmotic sensitivity in red blood cells isolated from neonates and their mothers at different times following birth. We fed female rats control or iron-deficient diets for 4 weeks prior to mating and kept them on the same diet until term. At that time, we returned one group of deficient dams to the control diet. The others were kept on the same diet. We showed that iron deficiency results in a decrease in osmotic sensitivity in the mothers but not in their neonates. Returning the dams to the control diet resulted in a return of their red cell osmotic sensitivity to control levels. In the neonates, there was no recovery in haematocrit or in any other parameter, though they did not get any worse, in contrast to the pups being suckled by deficient mothers. The data show two things. The first is that following birth, the mother restores her own iron stores at the expense of the pups, and secondly, there are differences in properties and sensitivities between red cells from mothers and their neonates. This latter observation cannot be explained by differences in the membrane fatty acid profiles, which were not significantly different.
Bibliographical noteAcknowledgments: We are grateful to the staff of the BSU for their
untiring assistance and care for the animals used in this study. We are also grateful to Donna Henderson, who performed much of the fatty acid analysis. Dr. Helen Hayes and Ms. Val Stevens provided invaluable technical support. This work was supported by Scottish Government Rural and Environmental Scientific and Analytical Services, the European Union (EARNEST and NuGO). LMA is grateful for the award of a Ph.D. studentship from the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health.
- iron status
- membrane structure
- birth outcomes
- British women