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Pediatr Res. 2000 Aug;48(2):169-76.

Perinatal iron deficiency decreases cytochrome c oxidase (CytOx) activity in selected regions of neonatal rat brain.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics and Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 55455, USA.


Intrauterine growth retardation and diabetes mellitus during human gestation result in significant losses of fetal and neonatal brain iron. Brain iron deficiency is associated with impaired cognitive processes including memory and attention. The regional distribution of iron staining and cytochrome c oxidase (CytOx) activity have not been mapped in the iron-sufficient or -deficient neonatal rat. CytOx is the iron-containing terminal enzyme in oxidative phosphorylation; its activity reflects neuronal metabolism. We hypothesized that neonatal brain iron deficiency differentially decreases iron and CytOx activity in brain regions, with more pronounced losses in structures involved in recognition memory. Pregnant Sprague Dawley rats were fed either an iron-deficient or -fortified diet from gestational d 1 until postnatal d 10. Iron staining and CytOx activity of 20 brain structures were mapped histochemically in 25 rats from each group. Brain iron staining was reduced from 75% to 100% and CytOx staining was decreased from 0% to 42% in the iron deficient group (p < 0.001). Areas with significantly reduced CytOx activity (p < 0.001) included all measured subareas of the hippocampus (CA1: 42%, CA3ab: 34%, CA3c: 33%, and dentate gyrus: 32%), the piriform cortex (17%), the medial dorsal thalamic nucleus (28%), and the cingulate cortex (41%). In contrast, the anterior thalamic nucleus, the lateral amygdaloid nucleus, and the medial habenula, areas not involved in higher cognitive functions, did not have significantly reduced CytOx activity (0%, 10%, and 16%, respectively). We conclude that perinatal iron deficiency differentially reduces neuronal metabolic activity, specifically targeting areas of the brain involved in memory processing.

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