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Role of excessive maternal iron in the pathogenesis of congenital leukoencephalomalacia in captive black rhinoceroses (Diceros bicornis)

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  • 1 UCLA/VA Hematology Research Laboratory, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1732.
  • | 2 Denver Zoological Foundation, 2300 Steele St, Denver, CO 80205-4899.
  • | 3 Wildlife Conservation Society, 2300 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10460-1099.
  • | 4 UCLA/VA Hematology Research Laboratory, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1732.

Abstract

Objective—To investigate the possibility that excessive maternal iron (overload) may contribute to development of congenital leukoencephalomalacia in captive black rhinoceroses.

Sample Population—Tissue specimens and serum samples from 18 rhinoceroses in 2 kindreds harboring 4 (possibly 5) affected female calves.

Procedure—Fresh and archival sera and necropsy tissue specimens were evaluated to determine the nature and extent of iron overload in captive and wild black rhinoceroses as well as other rhinoceros species.

Results—Quantitative serum and tissue assays of iron and iron analytes, corroborated by histopathologic findings, indicated that these kindreds carried the greatest body burdens of iron yet found among captive black rhinoceroses. Fourteen of 18 rhinoceroses had the highest serum ferritin concentrations measured among 64 black rhinoceroses in captivity in the United States. Dams of affected calves had serum ferritin concentrations 2 orders of magnitude higher than clinically normal humans, equids, or free-ranging rhinoceroses. A neonatal serum sample from 1 affected female calf had a high ferritin concentration (approx 100-fold increase), but a male sibling of another affected female did not, suggesting a possible sex disparity in fetal response to maternal iron overload. Morphologic hallmarks of hemochromatosis were prominent in dams and grandams of affected calves.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Excessive maternal iron may affect female fetuses more than males, possibly inducing leukoencephalomalacia by catalyzing production of highly toxic hydroxyl free radicals during crucial periods of in utero development. Reduction of maternal iron overload may decrease the probability of developing leukoencephalomalacia and some other disorders commonly affecting rhinoceroses in captivity. (Am J Vet Res 2001;62:343–349)

Abstract

Objective—To investigate the possibility that excessive maternal iron (overload) may contribute to development of congenital leukoencephalomalacia in captive black rhinoceroses.

Sample Population—Tissue specimens and serum samples from 18 rhinoceroses in 2 kindreds harboring 4 (possibly 5) affected female calves.

Procedure—Fresh and archival sera and necropsy tissue specimens were evaluated to determine the nature and extent of iron overload in captive and wild black rhinoceroses as well as other rhinoceros species.

Results—Quantitative serum and tissue assays of iron and iron analytes, corroborated by histopathologic findings, indicated that these kindreds carried the greatest body burdens of iron yet found among captive black rhinoceroses. Fourteen of 18 rhinoceroses had the highest serum ferritin concentrations measured among 64 black rhinoceroses in captivity in the United States. Dams of affected calves had serum ferritin concentrations 2 orders of magnitude higher than clinically normal humans, equids, or free-ranging rhinoceroses. A neonatal serum sample from 1 affected female calf had a high ferritin concentration (approx 100-fold increase), but a male sibling of another affected female did not, suggesting a possible sex disparity in fetal response to maternal iron overload. Morphologic hallmarks of hemochromatosis were prominent in dams and grandams of affected calves.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Excessive maternal iron may affect female fetuses more than males, possibly inducing leukoencephalomalacia by catalyzing production of highly toxic hydroxyl free radicals during crucial periods of in utero development. Reduction of maternal iron overload may decrease the probability of developing leukoencephalomalacia and some other disorders commonly affecting rhinoceroses in captivity. (Am J Vet Res 2001;62:343–349)