Additive effects of maternal iron deficiency and prenatal immune activation on adult behaviors in rat offspring.
Both iron deficiency (ID) and infection are common during pregnancy and studies have described altered brain development in offspring as a result of these individual maternal exposures. Given their high global incidence, these two insults may occur simultaneously during pregnancy. We recently described a rat model which pairs dietary ID during pregnancy and prenatal immune activation. Pregnant rats were placed on iron sufficient (IS) or ID diets from embryonic day 2 (E2) until postnatal day 7, and administered the bacterial endotoxin, lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or saline on E15/16. In this model, LPS administration on E15 caused greater induction of the pro-inflammatory cytokines, interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-α, in ID dams compared to IS dams. This suggested that the combination of prenatal immune activation on a background of maternal ID might have more adverse neurodevelopmental consequences for the offspring than exposure to either insult alone. In this study we used this model to determine whether combined exposure to maternal ID and prenatal immune activation interact to affect juvenile and adult behaviors in the offspring. We assessed behaviors relevant to deficits in humans or animals that have been associated with exposure to either maternal ID or prenatal immune activation alone. Adult offspring from ID dams displayed significant deficits in pre-pulse inhibition of acoustic startle and in passive avoidance learning, together with increases in cytochrome oxidase immunohistochemistry, a marker of metabolic activity, in the ventral hippocampus immediately after passive avoidance testing. Offspring from LPS treated dams showed a significant increase in social behavior with unfamiliar rats, and subtle locomotor changes during exploration in an open field and in response to amphetamine. Surprisingly, there was no interaction between effects of the two insults on the behaviors assessed, and few observed alterations in juvenile behavior. Our findings show that long-term effects of maternal ID and prenatal LPS were additive, such that offspring exposed to both insults displayed more adult behavioral abnormalities than offspring exposed to one alone.