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Iron is involved in important vital functions as an essential component of the oxygen-transporting heme mechanism. In this study we aimed to evaluate whether oxidative metabolites from maternal cigarette smoke could affect iron homeostasis in the brain of victims of sudden unexplained fetal and infant death, maybe through the induction of maternal hemoglobin damage, such as in case of methemoglobinemia. Histochemical investigations by Prussian blue reaction were made on brain nonheme ferric iron deposits, gaining detailed data on their localization in the brainstem and cerebellum of victims of sudden death and controls. The Gless and Marsland's modification of Bielschowsky's was used to identify neuronal cell bodies and neurofilaments. Our approach highlighted accumulations of blue granulations, indicative of iron positive reactions, in the brainstem and cerebellum of 33% of victims of sudden death and in none of the control group. The modified Bielschowsky's method confirmed that the cells with iron accumulations were neuronal cells. We propose that the free iron deposition in the brain of sudden fetal and infant death victims could be a catabolic product of maternal methemoglobinemia, a biomarker of oxidative stress likely due to nicotine absorption.


Anna M Lavezzi, Lucijan Mohorovic, Graziella Alfonsi, Melissa F Corna, Luigi Matturri. Brain iron accumulation in unexplained fetal and infant death victims with smoker mothers--the possible involvement of maternal methemoglobinemia. BMC pediatrics. 2011;11:62

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PMID: 21733167

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