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Keywords:

  • human newborn;
  • infant;
  • iron;
  • liver;
  • trace elements

Recent observations on a correlation between fetal serum ferritin and gestational age, consistent with an increase in fetal iron stores during pregnancy, led us to study liver iron content in 22 human stillborns, newborns and infants of different gestational and postnatal age. At autopsy, a longitudinal liver slice was subdivided into ten blocks. Each sample was analyzed for iron content by atomic absorption spectroscopy. The mean iron concentration in the studied livers was 21.6 μM/g dry tissue (d.t.). A striking interindividual variability in iron content was observed: the hepatic concentration of the metal ranged from 3.3 to 64.4μM/g d.t. No correlation was found between the hepatic iron concentration and gestational age or other clinical parameters of the patients studied. Moreover, the total storage iron of the liver did not appear to be correlated with the gestational age. The analysis of iron concentration in ten blocks in each liver revealed an irregular distribution of the metal. Lobar differences were observed, with a tendency of the left lobe to accumulate more iron than the right one. Furthermore, striking differences in iron content were found between adjacent liver samples, ranging in one instance from 4.5 up to 109.0 μM/g of dry tissue. Perls' stain for iron was positive in 7 out of the 22 livers examined, showing an irregular acinar distribution, with preferential periportal localization. Our data show that the newborn liver can be considered an interesting model for the study of iron storage. The observed uneven distribution of the metal, even in the absence of fibrosis normally associated with iron storage in adults, casts doubt on the interpretation of iron concentration of a small liver sample as representative of the mean hepatic iron concentration.