Iron deficiency alters expression of dopamine-related genes in the ventral midbrain in mice

Neuroscience. 2013 Nov 12:252:13-23. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2013.07.058. Epub 2013 Aug 1.


A clear link exists between iron deficiency (ID) and nigrostriatal dopamine malfunction. This link appears to play an important role in at least restless legs syndrome (RLS) if not several other neurological diseases. Yet, the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. The effects of ID on gene expression in the brain have not been studied extensively. Here, to better understand how exactly ID alters dopamine functioning, we investigated the effects of ID on gene expression in the brain, seeking to identify any potential transcription-based mechanisms. We used six strains of recombinant inbred mice (BXD type) known to differ in susceptibility to ID in the brain. Upon weaning, we subjected mice from each strain to either an iron-deficient or iron-adequate diet. After 100 days of dietary treatment, we measured the effects of ID on gene expression in the ventral midbrain, a region containing the substantia nigra. The substantia nigra is the base of the nigrostriatal dopamine pathway and a region particularly affected by iron loss in RLS. We screened for ID-induced changes in expression, including changes in that of both iron-regulating and dopamine-related genes. Results revealed a number of expression changes occurring in ID, with large strain-dependent differences in the genes involved and number of expression changes occurring. In terms of dopamine-related genes, results revealed ID-induced expression changes in three genes with direct ties to nigrostriatal dopamine functioning, two of which have never before been implicated in an iron-dopamine pathway. These were stromal cell-derived factor 1 (Cxcl12, or SDF-1), a ferritin regulator and potent dopamine neuromodulator, and hemoglobin, beta adult chain 1 (Hbb-b1), a gene recently shown to play a functional role in dopaminergic neurons. The extent of up-regulation of these genes varied by strain. This work not only demonstrates a wide genetic variation in the transcriptional response to ID in the brain, but also reveals two novel biochemical pathways by which iron may potentially alter dopamine function.

Keywords: ANCOVA; Alas2; BXD; Cxcl12; Drd2; FDR; FHC; GSEA; Gene Set Enrichment Analysis; Hbb-b1; ID; LR ratio; RLS; RT-PCR; Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction; Rsad2; TH; Tfrc; VMB; aminolevulinic acid synthase 2; analysis of covariance; dopamine receptor 2; false discovery rate; ferritin heavy-chain; iron deficiency; log(2) ratio; radical S-adenosyl methionine domain containing 2; recombinant inbred strains; restless legs syndrome; transferrin receptor; tyrosine hydroxylase; ventral midbrain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chemokine CXCL12 / genetics*
  • Chemokine CXCL12 / metabolism
  • Dopamine / genetics*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Hemoglobins / genetics*
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Iron Deficiencies*
  • Mesencephalon / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / genetics
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / metabolism
  • Transcriptome


  • Chemokine CXCL12
  • Cxcl12 protein, mouse
  • Hemoglobins
  • hemoglobin B
  • Dopamine