Like us, guinea pigs can’t make vitamin C, but must obtain it from their diet. This makes them a good model for examining the effects of vitamin C deficiency.
In a recent study looking specifically at the effects of prenatal vitamin C deficiency, 80 pregnant guinea pigs were fed a diet that was either high or low in vitamin C. Subsequently, 157 of the newborn pups were randomly allocated to either a low or high vitamin C diet (after weaning), creating four conditions: high/high (controls); high/low (postnatal depletion); low/high (postnatal repletion); low/low (pre/postnatal deficiency). Only males experienced the high/low condition (postnatal depletion).
Only the postnatal depletion group showed any effect on body weight; no group showed an effect on brain weight.
Nevertheless, although the brain as a whole grew normally, those who had experienced a prenatal vitamin C deficiency showed a significantly smaller hippocampus (about 10-15% smaller). This reduction was not reversed by later repletion.
This reduction appeared to be related to a significant reduction in the migration of new neurons into the dentate gyrus. There was no difference in the creation or survival of new neurons in the hippocampus.
This finding suggests that marginal deficiency in vitamin C during pregnancy (a not uncommon occurrence) may have long-term effects on offspring.