Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

A key hormone in the fetal liver has been found for the first time to play a critical role in determining iron endowment in the newborn baby.

© Samira Lakhal-Littleton

Up until now, widely held notions made in comparison to how the adult liver controls iron in the body have led to a common focus on how maternal iron status and function of the placenta determines a baby's iron status. A new study from the Lakhal-Littleton research group in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics reveals a more autonomous process takes place within the fetus than previously understood.

Historically, research into iron has focused on its role in the synthesis of haemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs throughout your body. However, in recent years evidence has been uncovered that iron plays an important role in many other physiological processes. For example, iron deficiency has been shown to impair cardiovascular function independently of haemoglobin levels in key Lakhal-Littleton lab papers in eLife and PNAS. In infancy, iron deficiency is associated with growth retardation and both motor skill and cognitive defects, because iron is required for the synthesis of myelin, an essential component of neurons, and also for rapid bone and muscle growth during childhood. While it is known that a liver-derived hormone called Hepcidin is responsible for regulating iron in the body, what is not well understood is the role it plays in the development of the unborn baby during pregnancy.

Read more on the Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics website

Similar stories

New evidence for how our brains handle surprise

A new study from the Bruno Group is challenging our perceptions of how the different regions of the cerebral cortex function. A group of ‘quiet’ cells in the somatosensory cortex that rarely respond to touch have been found to react mainly to surprising circumstances. The results suggest their function is not necessarily driven by touch, but may indicate an important and previously unidentified role across all the major cortices.

Language learning difficulties in children linked to brain differences

A new study using MRI has revealed structural brain changes in children with developmental language disorder (DLD), a common but under-recognised difficulty in language learning. Children with DLD aged 10-15 showed reduced levels of myelin in areas of the brain associated with speaking and listening to others, and areas involved in learning new skills. This finding is a significant advance in our understanding of DLD and these brain differences may explain the poorer language outcomes in this group.

The Gene Therapists Headline at Glastonbury 2022

Rosie Munday writes about her experience taking science to the masses at the Glastonbury Festival.

New research reveals relationship between particular brain circuits and different aspects of mental wellbeing

Researchers at the University of Oxford have uncovered previously unknown details about how changes in the brain contribute to changes in wellbeing.

Night-time blood pressure assessment is found to be important in diagnosing hypertension

Around 15% of people aged 40-75 may have a form of undiagnosed high blood pressure (hypertension) that occurs only at night-time. Because they do not know about this, and therefore are not being treated for it, they are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease such as stroke, heart failure, and even death, suggests new research from the University of Oxford published in the British Journal of General Practice.