Nicotine exposure during the neonatal brain growth spurt produces hyperactivity in preweanling rats

Neurotoxicol Teratol. Sep-Oct 2000;22(5):695-701. doi: 10.1016/s0892-0362(00)00096-9.


Despite warning labels and increases in evidence of the adverse effects of tobacco use, women continue to use tobacco products during pregnancy. Cigarette smoking has been linked to increased prenatal mortality, increased incidence of SIDS, reductions in birth weight, and disruptions in CNS and behavioral development. Animal model systems have critically established the causal relationship between nicotine and adverse developmental outcome. The present study examines the behavioral effects of nicotine exposure in the rat during the third trimester equivalent of the human brain growth spurt, a period of rapid development of the cholinergic systems and a period during which the CNS is particularly vulnerable to a number of insults. Sprague-Dawley rat pups were exposed to nicotine (6.0 mg/kg/day) from postnatal days (PD) 4-9 via an artificial rearing procedure. This procedure ensures that observed effects are not due to nutritional deficits. Two control groups were employed, an artificially reared control group and a normally reared control group. Activity level was measured on PD 18-19. Nicotine-exposed subjects were significantly overactive compared to both control groups, which did not differ significantly from one another. This behavioral alteration was observed in the absence of nicotine-induced body weight deficits. These results suggest that women who use tobacco products during late gestation may place their fetuses at risk for hyperactivity later in life, particularly during early adolescence.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Female
  • Ganglionic Stimulants / pharmacology*
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic / drug effects
  • Male
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Weaning


  • Ganglionic Stimulants
  • Nicotine