Poor iron status is a global health issue, affecting two thirds of the world population to some degree. It is a particular problem among pregnant women, in both developed and developing countries. Feeding pregnant rats a diet deficient in iron is associated with both hypertension and reduced nephron endowment in adult male offspring. However, the mechanistic pathway leading from iron deficiency to fetal kidney development remains elusive. This study aimed to establish the underlying processes associated with iron deficiency by assessing gene and protein expression changes in the rat embryo, focussing on the responses occurring at the time of the nutritional insult. Analysis of microarray data showed that iron deficiency in utero resulted in the significant up-regulation of 979 genes and down-regulation of 1545 genes in male rat embryos (d13). Affected processes associated with these genes included the initiation of mitosis, BAD-mediated apoptosis, the assembly of RNA polymerase II preinitiation complexes and WNT signalling. Proteomic analyses highlighted 7 proteins demonstrating significant up-regulation with iron deficiency and the down-regulation of 11 proteins. The main functions of these key proteins included cell proliferation, protein transport and folding, cytoskeletal remodelling and the proteasome complex. In line with our recent work, which identified the perturbation of the proteasome complex as a generalised response to in utero malnutrition, we propose that iron deficiency alone leads to a more specific failure in correct protein folding and transport. Such an imbalance in this delicate quality-control system can lead to cellular dysfunction and apoptosis. Therefore these findings offer an insight into the underlying mechanisms associated with the development of the embryo during conditions of poor iron status, and its health in adult life.
Swali, A., McMullen, S., Hayes, H., Gambling, L., McArdle, H. J., & Langley-Evans, S. C. (2012). Processes underlying the nutritional programming of embryonic development by iron deficiency in the rat. PloS ONE, 7(10), [e48133]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0048133