Iron deficiency during pregnancy and lactation modifies the fatty acid composition of the brain of neonatal rats

William D. Rees* (Corresponding Author), Susan M. Hay, Helen E. Hayes, Valerie J. Stevens, Lorraine Gambling, Harry J. McArdle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Iron deficiency is common in pregnant and lactating women and is associated with reduced cognitive development of the offspring. Since iron affects lipid metabolism, the availability of fatty acids, particularly the polyunsaturated fatty acids required for early neural development, was investigated in the offspring of female rats fed iron-deficient diets during gestation and lactation. Subsequent to the dams giving birth, one group of iron-deficient dams was recuperated by feeding an iron-replete diet. Dams and neonates were killed on postnatal days 1, 3 and 10, and the fatty acid composition of brain and stomach contents was assessed by gas chromatography. Changes in the fatty acid profile on day 3 became more pronounced on day 10 with a decrease in the proportion of saturated fatty acids and a compensatory increase in monounsaturated fatty acids. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in the n-6 family were reduced, but there was no change in the n-3 family. The fatty acid profiles of neonatal brain and stomach contents were similar, suggesting that the change in milk composition may be related to the changes in the neonatal brain. When the dams were fed an iron-sufficient diet at birth, the effects of iron deficiency on the fatty acid composition of lipids in both dam’s milk and neonates’ brains were reduced. This study showed an interaction between maternal iron status and fatty acid composition of the offspring’s brain and suggests that these effects can be reduced by iron repletion of the dam’s diet at birth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)264-272
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease
Issue number3
Early online date23 Sep 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • arachidonic acid
  • docosahexaenoic acid
  • fatty acid methyl ester
  • long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid
  • mono-unsaturated fatty acid
  • saturated fatty acid
  • Abbreviations:saturated fatty acid


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