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Biol Psychiatry. 2014 Jan 1;75(1):47-55. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.07.024. Epub 2013 Sep 10.

Prenatal glucocorticoids and maternal smoking during pregnancy independently program adult nicotine dependence in daughters: a 40-year prospective study.

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Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Alpert Medical School, School of Public Health, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. Electronic address:



Maternal smoking during pregnancy (MSDP) is an independent risk factor for offspring nicotine dependence (ND), but mechanisms remain unknown. We investigated prenatal glucocorticoid (cortisol) and androgen (testosterone) associations with offspring ND over 40 years and the possibility that prenatal glucocorticoids and androgens would mediate links between MSDP and offspring ND.


Participants were 1086 mother-adult offspring pairs (59% female) from the New England Family Study, a 40-year longitudinal follow-up of the Collaborative Perinatal Project. MSDP was assessed prospectively at each prenatal visit. Maternal cortisol, testosterone, and cotinine (nicotine metabolite) were assayed from third trimester maternal sera. Offspring lifetime ND was assessed via structured interview.


Significant bivariate associations emerged for: 1) MSDP/cotinine and lifetime ND; and 2) maternal cortisol and lifetime ND, for daughters only. In multivariate models, maternal cortisol and MSDP/cotinine remained significantly and independently associated with increased odds of lifetime ND of daughters. However, cortisol did not mediate the MSDP-lifetime ND relation. No associations emerged between maternal testosterone and offspring ND.


Results provide the first evidence in support of prenatal glucocorticoid programming of adult ND over 40 years in daughters only. Our study highlights two independent prenatal pathways leading to increased risk for ND in daughters: elevated prenatal glucocorticoids and MSDP/nicotine exposure. Daughter-specific effects of glucocorticoid and MSDP programming over 40 years highlight the breadth and persistence of sexually dimorphic programming effects in humans. Results do not support androgen programming of offspring ND.


Androgen; cortisol; cotinine; glucocorticoid; maternal smoking during pregnancy; nicotine dependence; programming; testosterone

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