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Prenatal nicotine primes adolescent brain for addiction

DURHAM, N.C. -- Prenatal exposure to nicotine inflicts lasting damage that might leave the brain vulnerable to further injury and addiction upon later use of the drug, according to animal research conducted by Duke University Medical Center pharmacologists. The team found in rat studies that exposure to nicotine in fetal development 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 team found. 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, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology, psychiatry and neurobiology at Duke. "Our study suggests a biological mechanism to explain that."

A pair of papers describing the findings, now available online, is set to appear in forthcoming issues of Neuropsychopharmacology. Philip Morris USA supported the research. The researchers have no financial ties to Philip Morris.

While maternal smoking rates have dropped in recent years, approximately 25 percent of individuals in the U.S. have mothers who smoked during pregnancy, Slotkin said. Epidemiological studies by other researchers have shown that such maternal smoking leaves children prone to smoke as adolescents, regardless of whether the parental smoking continues during childhood. That research was performed by researchers including Denise Kandel, Ph.D., of Columbia University, Marie Cornelius, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh and Raymond Niaura, Ph.D., of Brown University.

"The best of these studies rule out socioeconomic and other factors and point toward something special about exposu
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Contact: Kendall Morgan
kendall.morgan@duke.edu
919-684-4148
Duke University Medical Center
20-Apr-2004


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