In utero nicotine exposure causes persistent, gender-dependant changes in locomotor activity and sensitivity to nicotine in C57Bl/6 mice

James R. Pauly, Jae A. Sparks, Kurt F. Hauser, Thomas H. Pauly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Maternal cigarette smoking during pregnancy can result in a wide variety of adverse fetal outcomes, ranging from preterm delivery and low birth weight, to sudden infant death syndrome. In addition, in utero tobacco smoke exposure is associated with delayed or impaired neuropsychological development. Although the causative agent in tobacco smoke that leads to these aberrations is not known, some studies have concluded that nicotine may play an important role. Many studies using animal models of prenatal nicotine exposure have supported the hypothesis that nicotine may directly and/or indirectly cause impairments in fetal and neonatal development. However, in many of the animal studies nicotine has been administered acutely to naive dams, which could lead to significant fetal hypoxia; some routes of drug administration are also very stressful to pregnant dams, and changes in stress hormones could also create an unfavorable fetal environment. In this study, pregnant mice were exposed to chronic nicotine via the drinking solution; locomotor activity and sensitivity to nicotine were evaluated in the offspring. We have previously shown that oral nicotine administration produces behavioral and physiological changes that resemble those seen following other routes of nicotine administration. Although oral nicotine exposure did not significantly alter any aspect of the pregnancy, dams drinking a nicotine-containing solution consumed approximately 20% less volume, compared to saccharin controls. All animals were cross fostered to nicotine naïve lactating dams, immediately after birth. On PN40 and PN60, male mice exposed to in utero nicotine demonstrated significant locomotor hyperactivity in an open filed arena. Although female animals did not show any signs of hyperactivity, they did have a significant attenuation of their hypothermic response to acute nicotine challenge. These results suggest that oral nicotine delivery to pregnant mice causes persistent, gender-dependant changes in behavior and sensitivity to nicotine. This model may be very useful for future studies that try to more accurately define the windows of sensitivity for nicotine exposure and the possible underlying neurochemical mechanisms involved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)329-337
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Developmental Neuroscience
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Aug 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
These studies were supported by the National Institutes of Health Grant DA-08443. The authors thank Kelli Agee, Melissa Stump and Carol Beth Mize for technical assistance and Rebecca McKelvey for editorial assistance.


  • ADHD
  • CNS
  • GD
  • Gender-dependant changes
  • Locomotor activity
  • Nicotine exposure
  • PN
  • analysis of variance
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • central nervous system
  • gestational day
  • postnatal day

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology


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