Early-life iron deficiency has lifelong influences on brain structure and cognitive function, however characterization of these changes often requires invasive techniques. There is a need for non-invasive assessment of early-life iron deficiency with potential to translate findings to the human clinical setting. In this study, 28 male pigs were provided either a control diet (CONT; n = 14; 23.5 mg Fe/L milk replacer) or an iron-deficient diet (ID; n = 14; 1.56 mg Fe/L milk replacer) for phase 1 of the study, from postnatal day (PND) 2 until 32. Twenty pigs (n = 10/diet from phase 1 were used in phase 2 of the study from PND 33 to 61, where all pigs were provided a common iron-sufficient diet, regardless of their phase 1 dietary iron status. All pigs were subjected to magnetic resonance imaging at PND 32 and again at PND 61, and quantitative susceptibility mapping was used to assess brain iron content at both imaging time-points. Data collected on PND 61 were analyzed using voxel-based morphometry and tract-based spatial statistics to determine tissue concentration difference and white matter tract integrity, respectively. Quantitative susceptibility mapping outcomes indicated reduced iron content in the pons, medulla, cerebellum, left cortex, and left hippocampus of ID pigs compared with CONT pigs, regardless of imaging time-point. In contrast, iron contents were increased in the olfactory bulbs of ID pigs compared with CONT pigs. Voxel-based morphometric analysis indicated increased grey and white matter concentrations in CONT pigs compared with ID pigs that were evident at PND 61. Differences in tissue concentrations were predominately located in cortical tissue as well as the cerebellum, thalamus, caudate, internal capsule, and hippocampi. Tract-based spatial statistics indicated increased fractional anisotropy values along subcortical white matter tracts in CONT pigs compared with ID pigs that were evident on PND 61. All described differences were significant at p ≤ 0.05. Results from this study indicate that neuroimaging can sensitively detect structural and physiological changes due to early-life iron deficiency, including grey and white matter volumes, iron contents, as well as reduced subcortical white matter integrity, despite a subsequent period of dietary iron repletion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number135
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2018


  • Brain iron
  • Iron deficiency
  • Iron repletion
  • Myelination
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Pediatric nutrition
  • Pig

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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