Nicotine exposure affects prenatal brain
Durham, NC, Apr. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers said Monday prenatal exposure to nicotine inflicts lasting damage that might leave the brain vulnerable to further injury.
Researchers from Duke University also said based on animal research, prenatal nicotine exposure could even lead to addiction upon later use of the drug. In rat studies, they found fetal exposure to nicotine alters the brain structures and brain cell activity in regions critical to learning, memory and reward.
In turn, those changes influence nicotine's effects on the brain during adolescence, a time when many smokers first take up the habit. The study in rats might provide a biological explanation for the high incidence of smoking among teens whose mothers smoked during pregnancy, the researchers said.
"Teens whose mothers smoked during pregnancy can show signs of nicotine dependence and withdrawal after just a handful of cigarettes," said Theodore Slotkin, professor of pharmacology, psychiatry and neurobiology at Duke. "Our study suggests a biological mechanism to explain that."