Increased Plasmodium chabaudi malaria mortality in mice with nutritional iron deficiency can be reduced by short-term adjunctive iron supplementation

Filip C. Castberg, Lasse Maretty, Trine Staalsoe, Casper Hempel, Erik Clasen-Linde, Lars Hviid, Jorøgen A. L. Kurtzhals

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Background: Iron deficiency is the most widespread nutrient deficiency and an important cause of developmental impairment in children. However, some studies have indicated that iron deficiency can also protect against malaria, which is a leading cause of childhood morbidity and mortality in large parts of the world. This has rendered interventions against iron deficiency in malaria-endemic areas controversial.
Methods: The effect of nutritional iron deficiency on the clinical outcome of Plasmodium chabaudi AS infection in A/J mice and the impact of intravenous iron supplementation with ferric carboxymaltose were studied before and after parasite infection. Plasma levels of the iron status markers hepcidin and fibroblast growth factor 23 were measured in animals surviving and succumbing to malaria, and accompanying tissue pathology in the liver and the spleen was assessed.
Results: Nutritional iron deficiency was associated with increased mortality from P. chabaudi malaria. This increased mortality could be partially offset by carefully timed, short-duration adjunctive iron supplementation. Moribund animals were characterized by low levels of hepcidin and high levels of fibroblast growth factor 23. All infected mice had extramedullary splenic haematopoiesis, and iron-supplemented mice had visually detectable intracellular iron stores.
Conclusions: Blood transfusions are the only currently available means to correct severe anaemia in children with malaria. The potential of carefully timed, short-duration adjunctive iron supplementation as a safe alternative should be considered.
Original languageEnglish
Article number34
JournalMalaria Journal
Issue number1
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • A/J mice
  • FGF23
  • Hepcidin
  • Iron deficiency
  • Malaria
  • Plasmodium chabaudi AS


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