Postnatal iron deficiency alters brain development in piglets

Brian J. Leyshon, Emily C. Radlowski, Austin T. Mudd, Andrew J. Steelman, Rodney W. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Cognitive deficits associated with postnatal iron deficiency (ID) suggest abnormal brain development, but little is known about animals with gyrencephalic brains. Objective: The objective was to assess the impact of ID on brain development in piglets. Methods: Male and female Yorkshire piglets were reared from postnatal day (PD) 2 until PD 29 or 30 by using milk replacer adequate [control (CON)] or deficient (100 compared with 10 mg/kg) in iron and subjected to MRI to assess brain macrostructure, microstructure, and metabolites in the dorsal hippocampi and intervening space. After MRI, brains were collected for histology. Hematocrit, hemoglobin, and liver iron were measured to determine iron status. Results: Hematocrit and hemoglobin in ID piglets were less than CON after PD 14 (P < 0.001), and at the study end liver iron in ID piglets was less than CON (P < 0.001). Brain region volumes were not affected by ID, but changes in brain composition were evident. ID piglets had less white matter in 78,305 voxels, with large clusters in the hippocampus and cortex. ID piglets had less gray matter in 13,625 voxels primarily in cortical areas and more gray matter in 28,017 voxels, most notably in olfactory bulbs and hippocampus. The major effect of ID on white matter was supported by lower fractional anisotropy values in the corpus callosum (0.300 compared with 0.284, P = 0.006) and in whole brain white matter (0.313 compared with 0.307, P = 0.002) in ID piglets. In coronal brain sections, corpus callosum width was less (P = 0.043) in ID piglets. Inositol was lower (P = 0.01) and phosphocholine was higher (P = 0.03) in hippocampus of ID piglets. Conclusions: Postnatal ID in piglets affects brain development, especially white matter. If the effects of ID persist, it might explain the lasting detrimental effects on cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1420-1427
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2016


  • Histology
  • Iron deficiency
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Micronutrient deficiency
  • Myelin
  • Neonatal
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Oligodendrocyte
  • Piglet
  • White matter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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