Study Title
Nicotine exposure of male mice produces behavioral impairment in multiple generations of descendants
PLOS Biology

Deirdre M. McCarthy, Thomas J. Morgan, Jr., Sarah E. Lowe, Matthew J. Williamson, Thomas J. Spencer, Joseph Biederman, Pradeep G. Bhide


Use of tobacco products is injurious to health in men and women. However, tobacco use by pregnant women receives greater scrutiny because it can also compromise the health of future generations. More men smoke cigarettes than women. Yet the impact of nicotine use by men upon their descendants has not been as widely scrutinized. We exposed male C57BL/6 mice to nicotine (200 μg/mL in drinking water) for 12 wk and bred the mice with drug-naïve females to produce the F1 generation. Male and female F1 mice were bred with drug-naïve partners to produce the F2 generation. We analyzed spontaneous locomotor activity, working memory, attention, and reversal learning in male and female F1 and F2 mice. Both male and female F1 mice derived from the nicotine-exposed males showed significant increases in spontaneous locomotor activity and significant deficits in reversal learning. The male F1 mice also showed significant deficits in attention, brain monoamine content, and dopamine receptor mRNA expression. Examination of the F2 generation showed that male F2 mice derived from paternally nicotine-exposed female F1 mice had significant deficits in reversal learning. Analysis of epigenetic changes in the spermatozoa of the nicotine-exposed male founders (F0) showed significant changes in global DNA methylation and DNA methylation at promoter regions of the dopamine D2 receptor gene. Our findings show that nicotine exposure of male mice produces behavioral changes in multiple generations of descendants. Nicotine-induced changes in spermatozoal DNA methylation are a plausible mechanism for the transgenerational transmission of the phenotypes. These findings underscore the need to enlarge the current focus of research and public policy targeting nicotine exposure of pregnant mothers by a more equitable focus on nicotine exposure of the mother and the father.

October 16, 2018
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