Background: Iron is a critical component of metabolic homeostasis, but consumption of dietary iron has increased dramatically in the last 30 years, corresponding with the rise of metabolic disease. While the link between iron metabolism and metabolic health is well established, the extent to which dietary iron contributes to metabolic disease risk is unexplored. Further, it is unknown how dietary iron interacts with genetic background to modify metabolic disease risk.
Methods: LG/J and SM/J inbred mouse strains were used to investigate the relationship between genetic background and metabolic function during an 8-week high iron diet. Glucose tolerance and adiposity were assessed, colorimetric assays determined levels of circulating metabolic markers, and hepatic iron content was measured. RNA sequencing was performed on white adipose tissue to identify genes differentially expressed across strain, diet, and strain X diet cohorts. Hepatic Hamp expression and circulating hepcidin was measured, and small nucleotide variants were identified in the Hamp genic region.
Results: LG/J mice experienced elevated fasting glucose and glucose intolerance during the high iron diet, corresponding with increased hepatic iron load, increased circulating ferritin, and signs of liver injury. Adipose function was also altered in high iron-fed LG/J mice, including decreased adiposity and leptin production and differential expression of genes involved in iron and glucose homeostasis. LG/J mice failed to upregulate hepatic Hamp expression during the high iron diet, resulting in low circulating hepcidin levels compared to SM/J mice.
Conclusions: This study highlights the importance of accounting for genetic variation when assessing the effects of diet on metabolic health, and suggests dietary iron's impact on liver and adipose tissue is an underappreciated component of metabolic disease risk.