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Int J Dev Neurosci. 2011 Apr;29(2):153-61. doi: 10.1016/j.ijdevneu.2010.12.001. Epub 2010 Dec 8.

Prenatal IV nicotine exposure produces a sex difference in sensorimotor gating of the auditory startle reflex in adult rats.

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Program in Behavioral Neuroscience, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA.


Maternal smoking during pregnancy is associated with auditory processing deficits in children; these effects have been confirmed with animal models of continuous high-dose prenatal nicotine exposure. The present experiments utilized a novel, low-dose, intermittent, intravenous (IV) gestational nicotine exposure model to investigate potential deficits on the preattentive process of sensorimotor gating, as indexed by prepulse inhibition (PPI), in preweanling and adult rat offspring. Pregnant dams received bolus IV injections of nicotine (0.05 mg/kg/injection) 3×/day on gestational days 8-21. Auditory and tactile stimulus modalities were probed with tone and air puff prepulse stimuli, respectively. These prepulse stimuli preceded a 100 dB(A) startle tone by six different interstimulus intervals (ISIs; 0, 8, 40, 80, 120, 4000 ms) to define a curve of response inhibition. The magnitude of PPI increased with age, from 59 to 81% inhibition. Preweanlings (PNDs 14 and 18) and adults (PND 75) gestationally exposed to nicotine exhibited altered startle responding relative to controls, but the nature of the deficit became more localized at later ages. The entire curve of response inhibition in preweanlings exposed to prenatal nicotine (PND 14) was shifted up relative to controls, and notably, did not interact with prepulse stimulus modality, suggesting a generalized increased sensorimotor responsiveness as a function of prenatal nicotine. At PND 18, a shift in the response curve across all ISIs was again noted, but varied as a function of prepulse stimulus modality; the increased sensorimotor responsiveness was specific to the auditory, but not tactile, sensory modality. In adulthood, male and female animals prenatally exposed to nicotine were differentially sensitive to modulation by the ISIs, relative to control male and female animals. Specifically, despite robust PPI, adult females exposed to gestational nicotine were relatively insensitive to changes in ISI from 8 to 120 ms; in contrast, the robust PPI of nicotine-exposed males demonstrated a clear focal point of inhibition at 40 ms. These findings indicate that a low, daily dosing of IV prenatal nicotine produces long-lasting alterations in auditory PPI. An important implication of this research is that "chipping" with smoked-tobacco products during pregnancy may produce enduring changes in sensorimotor processing.

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