Iron status and neural functioning

Annu Rev Nutr. 2003:23:41-58. doi: 10.1146/annurev.nutr.23.020102.075739. Epub 2003 Apr 10.


Iron deficiency in early life is associated with delayed development as assessed by a number of clinical trials using similar global scales of development; this poor development during infancy persists in most cases after iron therapy has corrected iron status. If iron deficiency occurs in preschool and older children, the consequences appear reversible with treatment. The biologic understanding of this relationship between development, brain iron status, and functioning is sparse though animal studies repeatedly demonstrate alterations in dopamine metabolism and in the myelination process. Dietary iron deficiency can rapidly deplete brain iron concentrations and repletion is able to normalize them. Residual alterations in striatal dopamine metabolism and myelin production persist if neonatal animals are used. Future studies with more specific measures of neurodevelopment in iron-deficient human infants, and animal models, will allow investigators to more clearly define causal roles of brain iron in neural development and functioning.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / metabolism
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Iron Deficiencies*
  • Iron Metabolism Disorders / metabolism*
  • Iron Metabolism Disorders / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Models, Animal
  • Nervous System Diseases / metabolism*
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena


  • Iron