Fetal iron deficiency induces chromatin remodeling at the Bdnf locus in adult rat hippocampus

Phu V. Tran, Bruce C. Kennedy, Yu Chin Lien, Rebecca A. Simmons, Michael K. Georgieff

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Fetal and subsequent early postnatal iron deficiency causes persistent impairments in cognitive and affective behaviors despite prompt postnatal iron repletion. The longterm cognitive impacts are accompanied by persistent downregulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a factor critical for hippocampal plasticity across the life span. This study determined whether early-life iron deficiency epigenetically modifies the Bdnf locus and whether dietary choline supplementation during late gestation reverses these modifications. DNA methylation and histone modifications were assessed at the Bdnf-IV promoter in the hippocampus of rats [at postnatal day (PND) 65] that were iron-deficient (ID) during the fetal-neonatal period. Iron deficiency was induced in rat pups by providing pregnant and nursing dams an ID diet (4 mg/kg Fe) from gestational day (G) 2 through PND7, after which iron deficiency was treated with an iron-sufficient (IS) diet (200 mg/kg Fe). This paradigm resulted in about 60% hippocampal iron loss on PND15 with complete recovery by PND65. For choline supplementation, pregnant rat dams were given dietary choline (5 g/kg) from G11 through G18. DNA methylation was determined by quantitative sequencing of bisulfite-treated DNA, revealing a small alteration at the Bdnf-IV promoter. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis showed increased HDAC1 binding accompanied by reduced binding of RNA polymerase II and USF1 at the Bdnf-IV promoter in formerly ID rats. These changes were correlated with altered histone methylations. Prenatal choline supplementation reverses these epigenetic modifications. Collectively, the findings identify epigenetic modifications as a potential mechanism to explicate the long-term repression of Bdnf following fetal and early postnatal iron deficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R276-R282
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2015

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© 2015, American Physiological Society. All rights reserved.


  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • Hippocampus
  • Histone methylation
  • Iron deficiency


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