Prenatal stress perturbs fetal iron homeostasis in a sex specific manner

Peter Zimmermann, Marta C. Antonelli, Ritika Sharma, Alexander Müller, Camilla Zelgert, Bibiana Fabre, Natasha Wenzel, Hau Tieng Wu, Martin G. Frasch, Silvia M. Lobmaier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The adverse effects of maternal prenatal stress (PS) on child’s neurodevelopment warrant the establishment of biomarkers that enable early interventional therapeutic strategies. We performed a prospective matched double cohort study screening 2000 pregnant women in third trimester with Cohen Perceived Stress Scale-10 (PSS-10) questionnaire; 164 participants were recruited and classified as stressed and control group (SG, CG). Fetal cord blood iron parameters of 107 patients were measured at birth. Transabdominal electrocardiograms-based Fetal Stress Index (FSI) was derived. We investigated sex contribution to group differences and conducted causal inference analyses to assess the total effect of PS exposure on iron homeostasis using a directed acyclic graph (DAG) approach. Differences are reported for p < 0.05 unless noted otherwise. Transferrin saturation was lower in male stressed neonates. The minimum adjustment set of the DAG to estimate the total effect of PS exposure on fetal ferritin iron biomarkers consisted of maternal age and socioeconomic status: SG revealed a 15% decrease in fetal ferritin compared with CG. Mean FSI was higher among SG than among CG. FSI-based timely detection of fetuses affected by PS can support early individualized iron supplementation and neurodevelopmental follow-up to prevent long-term sequelae due to PS-exacerbated impairment of the iron homeostasis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9341
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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