A mother’s iron deficiency early in pregnancy may have a profound and long-lasting effect on the brain development of the child, even if the lack of iron is not enough to cause severe anemia, according to a University of Rochester Medical Center study published in the scientific journal PLoS One.
The results are important because obstetricians might not notice or treat mild or moderate iron deficiency, and therefore the study authors believe their research underscores the need for monitoring a pregnant woman’s iron status beyond anemia.
Low iron is so common that an estimated 35 percent to 58 percent of all healthy women show some degree of deficiency. And among women of childbearing age, one in five has iron-deficient anemia, a more serious condition, according to the National Institutes of Health.
It is well established that iron-deficient babies develop more slowly and show brain abnormalities such as slow language learning and behavioral problems. But until now investigators did not know the degree to which iron deficiency in pregnancy is associated with these impairments, and when during gestation the deficiency has the most impact on the central nervous system.
“What convinced us to conduct the present study were our preliminary data suggesting that cells involved in building the embryonic brain during the first trimester were most sensitive to low iron levels,” said Margot Mayer-Proschel, Ph.D., the lead researcher and an associate professor of Biomedical Genetics at URMC.
Investigators, therefore, sought more details using a highly controlled animal model system, as it would not be feasible to study iron concentrations in developing human embryos. They found that the critical period begins in the weeks prior to conception and extends through the first trimester to the onset of the second trimester. Iron deficiency that starts in the third trimester did not seem to harm the developing brain.
“This information is very important for clinical care,” said Monique Ho, M.D., a collaborator on the study and assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Pediatrics at URMC. “Prenatal care usually involves the recommendation of a multivitamin that contains iron, which is usually prescribed after pregnancy is confirmed or at the first prenatal visit. But not all women have access to prenatal care, and not all women can take the supplements in early pregnancy due to vomiting. This study suggests it might be prudent to begin routine monitoring to detect iron deficiency earlier.”
By studying the relationship between maternal iron intake and fetal iron levels through a diet study, the team was able to pin down the critical periods of gestation when the developing central nervous system was most vulnerable. They measured the resulting brain function using a common, non-invasive test called an auditory brainstem response analysis, or ABR.
Co-author Anne Luebke, Ph.D., an associate professor of Biomedical Engineering and Neurobiology & Anatomy at UR, suggested and directed the use of ABR testing, which can detect the speed of information moving from the ear to the brain. Investigators hoped to learn about impairments or changes in myelin, the insulating material that surrounds axons and is required for normal brain function.
“In addition, ABR testing is routinely performed on human infants, and thus our study has an important component that can be translated to a clinical setting,” Luebke said.
The most surprising aspect of the research, Mayer-Proschel said, was that the timing of the iron deficiency was much more important than the degree of deficiency. This observation also seems to argue against the common notion that the placenta can minimize the impact of the mother’s deficiency on the baby.
“We refer to this as the window of vulnerability,” she said, “and it seems to be at a very early stage of development.” In previous studies of the cellular targets of iron deficiency, Mayer-Proschel found that lack of iron sets off an imbalance of neural precursor cells, which might ultimately be responsible for the defects sometimes experienced by children up to age two.
“The next goals will be to better understand how maternal iron deficiency causes these changes in the offspring,” she said, “and most importantly, what are the opportunities for reversing the damage.”
The National Institutes of Health and the University of Rochester funded the research.For Media Inquiries:
Leslie Orr | EurekAlert!
Cholesterol-lowering drugs may fight infectious disease
22.08.2017 | Duke University
Once invincible superbug squashed by 'superteam' of antibiotics
22.08.2017 | University at Buffalo
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
23.08.2017 | Life Sciences
23.08.2017 | Life Sciences
23.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy