Maternal hepcidin is associated with placental transfer of iron derived from dietary heme and nonheme sources

J Nutr. 2012 Jan;142(1):33-9. doi: 10.3945/jn.111.145961. Epub 2011 Nov 23.


The determinants of placental transport of dietary iron remain largely uncharacterized. The objective of this research was to elucidate determinants of fetal Fe transfer from maternally ingested dietary heme and non-heme Fe. The study was undertaken in 19 pregnant females (16-32 y) who ingested intrinsically labeled (58)Fe-heme and a nonheme Fe source ((57)FeSO(4)) during the third trimester of pregnancy. At delivery, maternal and cord blood was obtained to assess neonatal (57)Fe and (58)Fe enrichment as a function of maternal/neonatal Fe status [serum ferritin (SF), transferrin receptor, hemoglobin (Hb), total body Fe, and hepcidin]. There was a greater percentage of maternally absorbed (58)Fe tracer present in the neonates compared to the (57)Fe tracer (5.4 ± 2.4 vs. 4.0 ± 1.6; P < 0.0001). Net dietary nonheme Fe (mg) and heme Fe (mg) transferred to the fetus were both inversely correlated with measures of maternal serum hepcidin (P = 0.002, r(2) = 0.43; P = 0.004, r(2) = 0.39) and SF (P = 0.0008, r(2) = 0.49; P = 0.003, r(2) = 0.41) and directly associated with neonatal Hb (P = 0.004, r(2) = 0.39; P = 0.008, r(2) = 0.35). The results of this study suggest that during pregnancy there appears to be preferential fetal use of maternally ingested Fe derived from a dietary, animal-based heme source compared to Fe ingested as ferrous sulfate. Maternal serum hepcidin and maternal/neonatal Fe status may play a role in placental uptake of dietary heme and nonheme Fe.

Trial registration: NCT01019096.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / metabolism*
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Heme / metabolism*
  • Hepcidins
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange*
  • Pregnancy
  • Young Adult


  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • HAMP protein, human
  • Hepcidins
  • Heme
  • Iron

Associated data