Influence of copper on early development: Prenatal and postnatal considerations

Janet Y. Uriu-Adams, Rachel E. Scherr, Louise Lanoue, Carl L Keen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Copper (Cu) is an essential nutrient whose requirement is increased during pregnancy and lactation. These represent times of critical growth and development, and the fetus and neonate are particularly vulnerable to deficiencies of this nutrient. Genetic mutations that predispose the offspring to inadequate stores of Cu can be life threatening as is observed in children with Menkes disease. During the last decade, severe Cu deficiency, once thought to be a rare condition, has been reported in the literature at an increasing frequency. Secondary Cu deficiencies can be induced by a variety of ways such as excessive zinc or iron intake, certain drugs, and bariatric surgery. Premature and low birth weight infants can be born with low Cu stores. A number of mechanisms can contribute to the teratogenicity of Cu including decreased activity of select cuproenzymes, increased oxidative stress, decreased nitric oxide availability, altered iron metabolism, abnormal extracellular matrix protein crosslinking, decreased angiogenesis and altered cell signaling among others. The brain, heart, and vessels as well as tissues such as lung, skin and hair, and systems including the skeletal, immune, and blood systems, are negatively affected by suboptimal Cu during development. Additionally, persistent structural, biochemical, and functional adverse effects in the offspring are noted even when Cu supplementation is initiated after birth, supporting the concept that adequate Cu nutriture during pregnancy and lactation is critical for normal development. Although Cu-containing IUDs are an effective method for increasing intrauterine Cu concentrations and for reducing the risk of pregnancy, high amounts of dietary Cu are not thought to represent a direct developmental risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-152
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010


  • Copper deficiency
  • Embryo
  • Nitric oxide
  • Pregnancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine


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