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Male mice’s nicotine intake causes cognitive deficits in offspring

Harmful effect also seen in the second generation

by Cici Zhang
October 28, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 43


A photo of a lighted cigarette is shown here.
Credit: Pixabay
Nicotine may cause epigenetic changes in sperm DNA, leading to cognitive problems in the offspring, mouse study suggests.

In humans, paternal nicotine exposure has been associated with an increased risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. But little is known about the specific role of a father’s smoking on his offspring’s health. Addressing the question in a mouse study, Pradeep Bhide of Florida State University, along with colleagues there and at Massachusetts General Hospital, find that when males are exposed to nicotine, two generations of their offspring display learning deficits (PLOS Biology 2018, DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.2006497). The first-generation males also have attention problems and biochemical brain changes similar to those seen in human neurodevelopmental disorders. The researchers suggest that altered epigenetic gene regulation might be the underlying mechanism, as nicotine significantly changed the methylation patterns in father mice’s germ cell DNA. Thomas Gould, a neurobiologist at Pennsylvania State University who also studies nicotine, says the present finding “has direct public health implications, as risky or maladaptive actions of the parent, in this case the father, could have a negative impact on offspring.”


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