Journal Articles

Maternal Iron Nutriture as a Critical Modulator of FASD Risk in Alcohol-Exposed Pregnancies

October 19, 2017

Kaylee K. Helfrich, Nipun Saini, Pamela J. Kling, Susan M. Smith (2017). Maternal Iron Nutriture as a Critical Modulator of FASD Risk in Alcohol-Exposed Pregnancies. Biochemistry and Cell Biology.


Alcohol consumption during pregnancy places the fetus at risk for permanent physical, cognitive, and behavioral impairments, collectively termed fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). However, prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) outcomes vary widely, and growing evidence suggests that maternal nutrition is a modifying factor. Certain nutrients, such as iron, may modulate FASD outcomes. Untreated gestational iron deficiency (ID) causes persistent neurodevelopmental deficits in the offspring that affect many of the same domains damaged by PAE. Although chronic alcohol consumption enhances iron uptake and elevates liver iron stores in adult alcoholics, alcohol-abusing premenopausal women often have low iron reserves due to menstruation, childbirth, and poor diet. Recent investigations show that low iron reserves in during pregancy are strongly associated with a worsening of several hallmark features in FASD including reduced growth and impaired associative learning. This review discusses recent clinical and animal model findings that maternal ID worsens fetal outcomes in response to PAE. It also discusses underlying mechanisms by which PAE disrupts maternal and fetal iron homeostasis. We suggest that alcohol-exposed, ID pregnancies contribute to the severe end of the FASD spectrum.

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