Effects of gestational iron deficiency on fear conditioning in juvenile and adult rats

Jonathan C. Gewirtz, Kathryn L. Hamilton, Maya A. Babu, Jane D. Wobken, Michael K. Georgieff

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23 Scopus citations


The hippocampus is especially sensitive to the effects of gestational and neonatal iron deficiency, even after iron repletion. This study compared the effects of iron deficiency, maintained from gestational day 2 to postnatal day (P)7, on "delay" and "trace" fear conditioning. Only the latter paradigm is critically dependent on the dorsal hippocampus. In different groups of rats, fear conditioning commenced either prior to puberty (P28 or P35) or after puberty (P56). Fear conditioning was measured using fear-potentiated startle. Both delay and trace fear conditioning were diminished by iron deficiency at P28 and P35. Hippocampal expression of the plasticity-related protein PKC-gamma was increased through trace fear conditioning, but reduced at P35 in the iron-deficient group. Trace fear conditioning was enhanced by prior iron deficiency in the P56 group. This unanticipated finding in iron-repleted adults is consistent with the effects of developmental iron deficiency on inhibitory avoidance learning, but contrasts with the persistent deleterious long-term effects of a more severe iron-deficiency protocol, suggesting that degree and duration of iron deficiency affects the possibility of recovery from its deleterious effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-203
Number of pages9
JournalBrain Research
StatePublished - Oct 27 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (HD-29421; DA-07097).


  • Development
  • Hippocampus
  • PKC
  • Startle
  • Trace conditioning


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