Iron is important for life, and iron deficiency impairs development, but whether the iron level regulates neural differentiation remains elusive. In this study, with iron-regulatory proteins (IRPs) knockout embryonic stem cells (ESCs) that showed severe iron deficiency, we found that the Pax6- and Sox2-positive neuronal precursor cells and Tuj1 fibers in IRP1-/-IRP2-/- ESCs were significantly decreased after inducing neural differentiation. Consistently, in vivo study showed that the knockdown of IRP1 in IRP2-/- fetal mice remarkably affected the differentiation of neuronal precursors and the migration of neurons. These findings suggest that low intracellular iron status significantly inhibits neurodifferentiation. When supplementing IRP1-/-IRP2-/- ESCs with iron, these ESCs could differentiate normally. Further investigations revealed that the underlying mechanism was associated with an increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS) production caused by the substantially low level of iron and the down-regulation of iron-sulfur cluster protein ISCU, which, in turn, affected the proliferation and differentiation of stem cells. Thus, the appropriate amount of iron is crucial for maintaining normal neural differentiation that is termed ferrodifferentiation.
Keywords: ESCs; IRPs; ROS; differentiation; iron; neurodevelopment.
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