Gestational Iron Deficiency Differentially Alters the Structure and Function of White and Gray Matter Brain Regions of Developing Rats1-3

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Gestational iron deficiency (ID) has been associated with a wide variety of central nervous system (CNS) impairments in developing offspring. However, a focus on singular regions has impeded an understanding of the CNS-wide effects of this micronutrient deficiency. Because the developing brain requires iron during specific phases of growth in a region-specific manner, we hypothesized that maternal iron deprivation would lead to region-specific impairments in the CNS of offspring. Female rats were fed an iron control (Fe+) or iron-deficient (Fe-) diet containing 240 or 6 μg/g iron during gestation and lactation. The corpus callosum (CC), hippocampus, and cortex of the offspring were analyzed at postnatal day 21 (P21) and/or P40 using structural and functional measures. In the CC at P40, ID was associated with reduced peak amplitudes of compound action potentials specific to myelinated axons, in which diameters were reduced by ˜20% compared with Fe+ controls. In the hippocampus, ID was associated with a 25% reduction in basal dendritic length of pyramidal neurons at P21, whereas branching complexity was unaffected. We also identified a shift toward increased proximal branching of apical dendrites in ID without an effect on overall length compared with Fe+ controls. ID also affected cortical neurons, but unlike the hippocampus, both apical and basal dendrites displayed a uniform decrease in branching complexity, with no significant effect on overall length. These deficits culminated in significantly poorer performance of P40 Fe- offspring in the novel object recognition task. Collectively, these results demonstrate that non-anemic gestational ID has a significant and region-specific impact on neuronal development and may provide a framework for understanding and recognizing the presentation of clinical symptoms of ID.

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