Impact of Fetal-Neonatal Iron Deficiency on Recognition Memory at 2 Months of Age

J Pediatr. 2015 Dec;167(6):1226-32. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2015.08.035. Epub 2015 Sep 15.


Objective: To assess the effects of fetal-neonatal iron deficiency on recognition memory in early infancy. Perinatal iron deficiency delays or disrupts hippocampal development in animal models and thus may impair related neural functions in human infants, such as recognition memory.

Study design: Event-related potentials were used in an auditory recognition memory task to compare 2-month-old Chinese infants with iron sufficiency or deficiency at birth. Fetal-neonatal iron deficiency was defined 2 ways: high zinc protoporphyrin/heme ratio (ZPP/H > 118 μmol/mol) or low serum ferritin (<75 μg/L) in cord blood. Late slow wave was used to measure infant recognition of mother's voice.

Results: Event related potentials patterns differed significantly for fetal-neonatal iron deficiency as defined by high cord ZPP/H but not low ferritin. Comparing 35 infants with iron deficiency (ZPP/H > 118 μmol/mol) to 92 with lower ZPP/H (iron-sufficient), only infants with iron sufficiency showed larger late slow wave amplitude for stranger's voice than mother's voice in frontal-central and parietal-occipital locations, indicating the recognition of mother's voice.

Conclusions: Infants with iron sufficiency showed electrophysiological evidence of recognizing their mother's voice, whereas infants with fetal-neonatal iron deficiency did not. Their poorer auditory recognition memory at 2 months of age is consistent with effects of fetal-neonatal iron deficiency on the developing hippocampus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Asian People
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • Ferritins / blood
  • Fetus
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Iron / blood
  • Iron Deficiencies*
  • Iron Metabolism Disorders / blood
  • Iron Metabolism Disorders / complications*
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Memory Disorders / etiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Protoporphyrins / blood


  • Protoporphyrins
  • zinc protoporphyrin
  • Ferritins
  • Iron