New research shows that using nicotine during pregnancy affects genes involved in myelination and, consequently may help explain why the children of mothers who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to develop such psychiatric disorders as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, autism, and even drug abuse. In a paper presented at Neuroscience 2010, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Professor Ming Li, Ph.D., of the University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA, US) reported that when rats were given nicotine during pregnancy, their offspring manifested changes in myelin genes for the limbic system, especially the prefrontal cortex, a brain region important for decision-making.
“Our research shows that gestational treatment with nicotine significantly modifies myelin gene expression in specific brain regions that are involved in behavioral processes,” according to Professor Li, leader of the study. “Myelin deficits have been observed in adults with various psychiatric disorders. Our findings suggest that abnormal myelination may contribute to the psychiatric disorders associated with maternal smoking.”
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