Open Access Open Badges Research

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 Cornock1, Lorraine Gambling2, Simon C Langley-Evans1, Harry J McArdle2 and Sarah McMullen1*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington Campus, Loughborough, LE12 5RD, UK

2 Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, AB21 9SB, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 2013, 11:32  doi:10.1186/1477-7827-11-32

Published: 1 May 2013



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.


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.


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.


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.

Pregnancy; Iron; Placenta; Liver; Maternal; Fetus; Development; Rat