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BMC Med. 2014 Nov 26;12:229. doi: 10.1186/s12916-014-0229-8.

Diagnostic utility of zinc protoporphyrin to detect iron deficiency in Kenyan pregnant women.



Iron-deficient erythropoiesis results in excess formation of zinc protoporphyrin (ZPP), which can be measured instantly and at low assay cost using portable haematofluorometers. ZPP is used as a screening marker of iron deficiency in individual pregnant women and children, but also to assess population iron status in combination with haemoglobin concentration. We examined associations between ZPP and disorders that are common in Africa. In addition, we assessed the diagnostic utility of ZPP (measured in whole blood and erythrocytes), alone or in combination with haemoglobin concentration, in detecting iron deficiency (plasma ferritin concentration <15 μg/L).


Single blood samples were collected from a population sample of 470 rural Kenyan women with singleton pregnancies, gestational age 13 to 23 weeks, and haemoglobin concentration ≥90 g/L. We used linear regression analysis to assess associations between ZPP and iron markers (including anaemia), factors known or suspected to be associated with iron status, inflammation markers (plasma concentrations of C-reactive protein and α 1-acid glycoprotein), infections (Plasmodium infection, HIV infection), and other disorders (α(+)-thalassaemia, plasma concentrations of total bilirubin, and lactate dehydrogenase). Subsequently, in those without inflammation, Plasmodium infection, or HIV infection, we used logistic discriminant analysis and examined receiver operating characteristics curves with corresponding area-under-the-curve to assess diagnostic performance of ZPP, alone and in combination with haemoglobin concentration.


Individually, whole blood ZPP, erythrocyte ZPP, and erythrocyte protoporphyrin had limited ability to discriminate between women with and without iron deficiency. Combining each of these markers with haemoglobin concentration had no additional diagnostic value. Conventional cut off points for whole blood ZPP (>70 μmol/mol haem) resulted in gross overestimates of the prevalence of iron deficiency.


Erythrocyte ZPP has limited value to rule out iron deficiency when used for screening in conditions with a low prevalence (e.g., 10%). ZPP is of unreliable diagnostic utility when discriminating between pregnant women with and without iron deficiency. Based on these findings, guidelines on the use of ZPP to assess iron status in individuals or populations of pregnant women need review.


NCT01308112 (2 March 2011).

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