Moderate iron deficiency in infancy: Biology and behavior in young rats

John L. Beard, Barbara Felt, Tim Schallert, Maggie Burhans, James R. Connor, Michael K. Georgieff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Iron deficiency anemia in early childhood is associated with developmental delays and perhaps, irreversible alterations in neurological functioning. The goals were to determine if dietary induced gestational and lactational iron deficiency alters brain monoamine metabolism and behaviors dependent on that neurotransmitter system. Young pregnant rats were provided iron deficient or control diets from early in gestation through to weaning of pups and brain iron concentration, regional monoamine variables and achievement of specific developmental milestones were determined throughout lactation. Despite anemia during lactation, most brain iron concentrations did not fall significantly until P25, and well after significant changes in monoamine levels, transporter levels, and D2R density changed in terminal fields. The changes in D2R density were far smaller than previously observed models that utilized severe dietary restriction during lactation or after weaning. Iron deficient pups had normal birth weight, but were delayed in the attainment of a number of milestones (bar holding, vibrissae-evoked forelimb placing). This approach of iron deficiency in utero and during lactation sufficient to cause moderate anemia but not stunt growth demonstrates that monaminergic metabolism changes occur prior to profound declines in brain iron concentration and is associated with developmental delays. Similar developmental delays in iron deficient human infants suggest to us that alterations in iron status during this developmental period likely affects developing brain monaminergic systems in these infants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)224-232
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 30 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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