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Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2011 Dec 15;257(3):396-404. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2011.09.023. Epub 2011 Oct 6.

Effects of cigarette smoke exposure on nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits α7 and β2 in the sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) brainstem.

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Department of Medicine, The University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.


It is postulated that nicotine, as the main neurotoxic constituent of cigarette smoke, influences SIDS risk through effects on nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in brainstem nuclei that control respiration and arousal. This study compared α7 and β2 nAChR subunit expression in eight nuclei of the caudal and rostral medulla and seven nuclei of the pons between SIDS (n=46) and non-SIDS infants (n=14). Evaluation for associations with known SIDS risk factors included comparison according to whether infants had a history of exposure to cigarette smoke in the home, and stratification for sleep position and gender. Compared to non-SIDS infants, SIDS infants had significantly decreased α7 in the caudal nucleus of the solitary tract (cNTS), gracile and cuneate nuclei, with decreased β2 in the cNTS and increased β2 in the facial. When considering only the SIDS cohort: 1-cigarette smoke exposure was associated with increased α7 in the vestibular nucleus and increased β2 in the rostral dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus, rNTS and Cuneate, 2-there was a gender interaction for α7 in the gracile and cuneate, and β2 in the cNTS and rostral arcuate nucleus, and 3-there was no effect of sleep position on α7, but prone sleep was associated with decreased β2 in three nuclei of the pons. In conclusion, SIDS infants demonstrate differences in expression of α7 and β2 nAChRs within brainstem nuclei that control respiration and arousal, which is independent on prior history of cigarette smoke exposure, especially for the NTS, with additional differences for smoke exposure (β2), gender (α7 and β2) and sleep position (β2) evident.

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