Is There a Critical Period for the Developmental Neurotoxicity of Low-Level Tobacco Smoke Exposure?

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Secondhand tobacco smoke exposure in pregnancy increases the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders. We evaluated in rats whether there is a critical period during which tobacco smoke extract (TSE) affects the development of acetylcholine and serotonin systems, prominent targets for adverse effects of nicotine and tobacco smoke. We simulated secondhand smoke exposure by administering TSE so as to produce nicotine concentrations one-tenth those in active smoking, with 3 distinct, 10-day windows: premating, early gestation or late gestation. We conducted longitudinal evaluations in multiple brain regions, starting in early adolescence (postnatal day 30) and continued to full adulthood (day 150). TSE exposure in any of the 3 windows impaired presynaptic cholinergic activity, exacerbated by a decrement in nicotinic cholinergic receptor concentrations. Although the adverse effects were seen for all 3 treatment windows, there was a distinct progression, with lowest sensitivity for premating exposure and higher sensitivity for gestational exposures. Serotonin receptors were also reduced by TSE exposure with the same profile: little effect with premating exposure, intermediate effect with early gestational exposure and large effect with late gestational exposure. As serotonergic circuits can offset the neurobehavioral impact of cholinergic deficits, these receptor changes were maladaptive. Thus, there is no single 'critical period' for effects of low-level tobacco smoke but there is differential sensitivity dependent upon the developmental stage at the time of exposure. Our findings reinforce the need to avoid secondhand smoke exposure not only during pregnancy, but also in the period prior to conception, or generally for women of childbearing age.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Slotkin, TA; Stadler, A; Skavicus, S; Card, J; Ruff, J; Levin, ED; Seidler, FJ

Published Date

  • January 2017

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 155 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 75 - 84

PubMed ID

  • 27633979

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC5216647

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1096-0929

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/toxsci/kfw180


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States