updated 2021-06-20

Iron status at the menopausal transition: Is being low in iron at menopause a risk factor or a protective factor with respect to later neurodegenerative diseases? When monthly blood loss stops, iron can begin to accumulate in brain tissues and this can act as a source of oxidative stress, one of the factors that contributes to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease. This project is a cross-sectional examination of this question, examining women who are either low in iron or have normal iron levels at the very earliest and latest stages of menopause. This project involves behavioral measures of cognitive function, EEG measures of brain function, blood measures of systemic iron levels, and MRI measures of brain iron deposits. Collaborators: Drs. Pamela Miles (OUHSC), Doris Benbrook (OUHSC), and Dee Wu (OUHSC).

Iron status and smoking cessation: Does being low in iron represent an additional burden to women who are attempting to quit smoking? Low levels of iron can disrupt signaling by the neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays an important role in processing reward. Women generally have a harder time quitting smoking than do men, unless a monetary reward is provided. This project is examining the extent to which being low in iron has an effect on processing reward and thus on the ability to process the rewards associated with quitting smoking. This project involves blood measures of iron status, behavioral measures of cognitive functioning, and EEG measures of brain function. Collaborator: Dr. Darla Kendzor (Health Promotion Research Center, OUHSC).

Iron deficiency and dopamine signaling in the retina: The retina at the back of the is rich in dopamine receptors, and the level of dopamine receptors in the eye is proportional to the level of dopamine receptors in areas of the central nervous system. This project is examining the extent to which the electroretinogram (ERG)—a signal generated at the back of the eye—can provide an indication of the extent to which iron deficiency is disrupting dopamine status in the eye and, by association, in the central nervous system. This project involves blood measures of iron status, EEG measures of brain function, ERG measures of signaling in the eye, and behavioral measures of perception and cognition.

Iron deficiency anemia in cancer treatment related cognitive impairment: If a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer (for example), she will very frequently undergo chemotherapy. One result of this treatment is a measurable impairment in attention and memory. Intriguingly, one of the major drugs used for chemotherapy does not cross the blood-brain barrier and does cause severe iron deficiency and anemia. This feasibility study is examining the hypothesis that the iron deficiency anemia mediates the relationship between cancer treatment and cognitive impairment. This project involves blood measures of iron status, behavioral measures of attention and memory, EEG and functional near-infrared spectroscopy measures of brain function and neurovascular coupling, and MRI measures of brain iron deposits. Collaborators: Drs. Joan Walker (OUHSC), Anna Csiszar (OUHSC), and Dee Wu (OUHSC).