Iron deficiency affects acoustic startle response and latency, but not prepulse inhibition in young adult rats

Maggie S. Burhans, Catherine Dailey, Jason Wiesinger, Laura E. Murray-Kolb, Byron C. Jones, John L. Beard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Iron deficiency is associated with alterations in dopamine and serotonin transporters as well as changes in dopamine receptor (DR) density, monoamine concentrations, and in vivo extracellular contents of monoamines in terminal fields. Human infants with iron deficiency have both delayed maturation as well as lengthened central conduction times in auditory evoked potential studies. The current study utilizes the magnitude of the acoustic startle response (ASR), prepulse inhibition (PPI), and mean latency to maximum startle response (Tmax), to examine the functional integrity of response to environmental cues. Male and female rats consumed iron deficient (ID) or iron adequate (CN) diets from weaning until adulthood. ID rats of both sexes had 20-60% reductions in ASR when compared to CN rats but there was no effect on PPI. Tmax was significantly longer by 10-20% in females, but not males. Dopamine transporter density was significantly lower in putamen, nucleus accumbens, and olfactory tubercle in males, but not female rats while the serotonin transporter was significantly different from control animal density in five of 14 brain regions. Norepinephrine transporter density was lower in the locus ceruleus of ID male rats but was unaffected in ID female rats. Regression modeling of ASR with brain monoamine transporters and receptors showed hematocrit, norepinephrine transporter (NET) in dentate gyrus, and D1R in the nucleus accumbens account for nearly 49% of the variance in ASR. Tmax was not significantly associated with any of the independent variables. We conclude that iron deficiency affects the startle response, but not the inhibitory circuits involved in prepulse inhibition. Importantly, sex also strongly influenced these behavioral responses. Future studies, perhaps pharmacologic in nature, are necessary to ascertain whether iron deficiency modifies the contribution of monoaminergic systems to responses to environmental stimuli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)917-924
Number of pages8
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 30 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Acoustic startle response
  • Brain iron
  • Iron deficiency
  • Prepulse inhibition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Physiology (medical)


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