Cigarette smoking and pregnancy I: ovarian, uterine and placental effects

Placenta. 1999 May;20(4):265-72. doi: 10.1053/plac.1998.0377.


This review examines the major observations and principal controversies relating to the effects of smoking and the constituents of tobacco on ovarian, uterine and placental tissues. Maternal exposure is assessed relative to specific tobacco-related chemicals and the feto-placental impact of mutagenic products, in addition to nicotine replacement as a pharmacological intervention for smoking cessation. Important new information is being learned from clinical in vitro fertilization and assisted reproduction technologies regarding the effects of smoking on fertility. Present evidence supports an adverse effect of smoking on ovarian function which is prolonged and dose-dependent, whereas there appear to be more reversible effects on implantation and ongoing pregnancy. The anti-oestrogenic effect of smoking is reviewed in terms of direct effects of nicotine, cadmium and polyaromatic hydrocarbons on oestrogen synthesis and metabolism, oocytes and granulosa-luteal function. Innovative new models provide evidence that smoking may alter fertility through effects on uterine-fallopian tube functions which mediate gamete and conceptus transport. It is of interest that smoking is associated with a decreased incidence of uterine fibroids, endometriosis and uterine cancer, which may reflect inhibitory effects of smoke constituents on uterine cell proliferation and extracellular matrix interactions. The increased miscarriage rate among mothers who smoke may be related to direct adverse effects of nicotine, cadmium and polyaromatic hydrocarbons on trophoblast invasion and proliferation. In this respect, alterations in trophoblast differentiation along invasive or proliferative pathways may explain the changes in endocrine function and vascular morphology that are observed in smokers. In summary, significant advances are being made in the understanding of cellular and molecular mechanisms which underlie the differential effects of cigarette smoking on reproductive tissues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Embryo Implantation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Female / etiology
  • Ovary / physiology*
  • Placenta / physiology*
  • Pregnancy / immunology
  • Pregnancy / physiology*
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Trophoblasts / physiology
  • Uterus / physiology*