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Developmental Hippocampal Neuroplasticity in a Model of Nicotine Replacement Therapy during Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Author: Ian Mahar et al.

by Ian Mahar, Rosemary C. Bagot, Maria Antonietta Davoli, Sharon Miksys, Rachel F. Tyndale, Claire-Dominique Walker, Marissa Maheu, Sheng-Hai Huang, Tak Pan Wong, Naguib Mechawar


The influence of developmental nicotine exposure on the brain represents an important health topic in light of the popularity of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) as a smoking cessation method during pregnancy.


In this study, we used a model of NRT during pregnancy and breastfeeding to explore the consequences of chronic developmental nicotine exposure on cerebral neuroplasticity in the offspring. We focused on two dynamic lifelong phenomena in the dentate gyrus (DG) of the hippocampus that are highly sensitive to the environment: granule cell neurogenesis and long-term potentiation (LTP).


Pregnant rats were implanted with osmotic mini-pumps delivering either nicotine or saline solutions. Plasma nicotine and metabolite levels were measured in dams and offspring. Corticosterone levels, DG neurogenesis (cell proliferation, survival and differentiation) and glutamatergic electrophysiological activity were measured in pups.


Juvenile (P15) and adolescent (P41) offspring exposed to nicotine throughout prenatal and postnatal development displayed no significant alteration in DG neurogenesis compared to control offspring. However, NRT-like nicotine exposure significantly increased LTP in the DG of juvenile offspring as measured in vitro from hippocampal slices, suggesting that the mechanisms underlying nicotine-induced LTP enhancement previously described in adult rats are already functional in pups.


These results indicate that synaptic plasticity is disrupted in offspring breastfed by dams passively exposed to nicotine in an NRT-like fashion.