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Toxicology. 2005 May 5;209(3):245-61.

Maternal exposure of rats to nicotine via infusion during gestation produces neurobehavioral deficits and elevated expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein in the cerebellum and CA1 subfield in the offspring at puberty.

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Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


Maternal smoking during pregnancy is known to be a significant contributor to developmental neurological health problems in the offspring. In animal studies, nicotine treatment via injection during gestation has been shown to produce episodic hypoxia in the developing fetus. Nicotine delivery via mini osmotic pump, while avoiding effects due to hypoxia-ischemia, it also provides a steady level of nicotine in the plasma. In the present study timed-pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats (300-350 g) were treated with nicotine (3.3 mg/kg, in bacteriostatic water via s.c. implantation of mini osmotic pump) from gestational days (GD) 4-20. Control animals were treated with bacteriostatic water via s.c. implantation of mini osmotic pump. Offspring on postnatal day (PND) 30 and 60, were evaluated for changes in the ligand binding for various types of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and neuropathological alterations. Neurobehavioral evaluations for sensorimotor functions, beam-walk score, beam-walk time, incline plane and grip time response were carried out on PND 60 offspring. Beam-walk time and forepaw grip time showed significant impairments in both male and female offspring. Ligand binding densities for [3H]epibatidine, [3H]cytisine and [3H]alpha-bungarotoxin did not show any significant changes in nicotinic acetylcholine receptors subtypes in the cortex at PND 30 and 60. Histopathological evaluation using cresyl violet staining showed significant decrease in surviving Purkinje neurons in the cerebellum and a decrease in surviving neurons in the CA1 subfield of hippocampus on PND 30 and 60. An increase in glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) immuno-staining was observed in cerebellum white matter as well as granular cell layer of cerebellum and the CA1 subfield of hippocampus on PND 30 and 60 of both male and female offspring. These results indicate that maternal exposure to nicotine produces significant neurobehavioral deficits, a decrease in the surviving neurons and an increased expression of GFAP in cerebellum and CA1 subfield of hippocampus of the offspring on PND 30 and 60. The results show that although 60-day-old male and female rat offspring of mothers exposed to nicotine during gestation did not differ from control in body weight gain or nicotinic acetylcholine receptors ligand binding, they exhibited significant sensorimotor deficits that were consistent with the neuropathological alterations seen in the brain. These neurobehavioral and pathological deficits indicate that maternal nicotine exposure may produce long-term adverse health effects in the offspring.

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