Iron deficiency is common worldwide and is associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes. The increasing prevalence of indiscriminate iron supplementation during pregnancy also raises concerns about the potential adverse effects of iron excess. We examined how maternal iron status affects the delivery of iron to the placenta and fetus. Using mouse models, we documented maternal homeostatic mechanisms that protect the placenta and fetus from maternal iron excess. We determined that under physiological conditions or in iron deficiency, fetal and placental hepcidin did not regulate fetal iron endowment. With maternal iron deficiency, critical transporters mediating placental iron uptake (transferrin receptor 1 [TFR1]) and export (ferroportin [FPN]) were strongly regulated. In mice, not only was TFR1 increased, but FPN was surprisingly decreased to preserve placental iron in the face of fetal iron deficiency. In human placentas from pregnancies with mild iron deficiency, TFR1 was increased, but there was no change in FPN. However, induction of more severe iron deficiency in human trophoblast in vitro resulted in the regulation of both TFR1 and FPN, similar to what was observed in the mouse model. This placental adaptation that prioritizes placental iron is mediated by iron regulatory protein 1 (IRP1) and is important for the maintenance of mitochondrial respiration, thus ultimately protecting the fetus from the potentially dire consequences of generalized placental dysfunction.


Veena Sangkhae, Allison L. Fisher, Shirley Wong, Mary Dawn Koenig, Lisa Tussing-Humphreys, Alison Chu, Melisa Lelić, Tomas Ganz, Elizabeta Nemeth


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