Iron Deficiency Impairs Developing Hippocampal Neuron Gene Expression, Energy Metabolism, and Dendrite Complexity

Thomas W. Bastian, William C. von Hohenberg, Daniel J. Mickelson, Lorene M. Lanier, Michael K. Georgieff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Iron deficiency (ID), with and without anemia, affects an estimated 2 billion people worldwide. ID is particularly deleterious during early-life brain development, leading to long-Term neurological impairments including deficits in hippocampus-mediated learning and memory. Neonatal rats with fetal/neonatal ID anemia (IDA) have shorter hippocampal CA1 apical dendrites with disorganized branching. ID-induced dendritic structural abnormalities persist into adulthood despite normalization of the iron status. However, the specific developmental effects of neuronal iron loss on hippocampal neuron dendrite growth and branching are unknown. Embryonic hippocampal neuron cultures were chronically treated with deferoxamine (DFO, an iron chelator) beginning at 3 days in vitro (DIV). Levels of mRNA for Tfr1 and Slc11a2, iron-responsive genes involved in iron uptake, were significantly elevated in DFO-Treated cultures at 11DIV and 18DIV, indicating a degree of neuronal ID similar to that seen in rodent ID models. DFO treatment decreased mRNA levels for genes indexing dendritic and synaptic development (i.e. BdnfVI,Camk2a,Vamp1,Psd95,Cfl1, Pfn1,Pfn2, and Gda) and mitochondrial function (i.e. Ucp2,Pink1, and Cox6a1). At 18DIV, DFO reduced key aspects of energy metabolism including basal respiration, maximal respiration, spare respiratory capacity, ATP production, and glycolytic rate, capacity, and reserve. Sholl analysis revealed a significant decrease in distal dendritic complexity in DFO-Treated neurons at both 11DIV and 18DIV. At 11DIV, the length of primary dendrites and the number and length of branches in DFO-Treated neurons were reduced. By 18DIV, partial recovery of the dendritic branch number in DFO-Treated neurons was counteracted by a significant reduction in the number and length of primary dendrites and the length of branches. Our findings suggest that early neuronal iron loss, at least partially driven through altered mitochondrial function and neuronal energy metabolism, is responsible for the effects of fetal/neonatal ID and IDA on hippocampal neuron dendritic and synaptic maturation. Impairments in these neurodevelopmental processes likely underlie the negative impact of early life ID and IDA on hippocampus-mediated learning and memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)264-276
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopmental Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 S. Karger AG, Basel.


  • Anemia
  • Branching
  • Dendritogenesis
  • Developing brain
  • Energy metabolism
  • Glycolysis
  • Metabolism
  • Mitochondria


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