Accelerated Metabolism of Nicotine and Cotinine in Pregnant Smokers

J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2002 May;301(2):594-8. doi: 10.1124/jpet.301.2.594.


Cigarette smoking is the foremost modifiable risk factor for adverse pregnancy outcomes. Nicotine is a suspected fetal neuroteratogen. There is concern that nicotine may achieve toxic levels during pregnancy if nicotine replacement therapies are prescribed at doses used in the nonpregnant state. Ten healthy, volunteer, pregnant smokers received infusions of deuterium-labeled nicotine and cotinine during pregnancy and again postpartum. From blood and urine measurements, the following were determined: clearance (renal and nonrenal) of nicotine and cotinine, clearance of nicotine via the cotinine pathway (an indicator of CYP2A6 activity), and daily intake of nicotine from smoking. The clearance of nicotine and cotinine was significantly higher (60 and 140%, respectively), and the half-life of cotinine was much shorter (8.8 versus 16.6 h, P < 0.01) during pregnancy. Although plasma levels of cotinine were lower during pregnancy (119 versus 202 ng/ml, P < 0.05), daily intake of nicotine from smoking was similar during pregnancy and postpartum. For a given level of intake, the pharmacologic and toxicologic effects of nicotine during pregnancy are anticipated to be less than expected from nicotine metabolism data in nonpregnant women. Our data indicate that no downward dose adjustment needs to be made for nicotine replacement therapy during pregnancy. Conversely, higher than usual doses of nicotine may be necessary to optimize efficacy. Lower cotinine levels observed during pregnancy do not necessarily reflect less smoke exposure, and cut-off levels used to classify nonsmokers, passive smokers, and active smokers need to be established for pregnancy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cotinine / blood*
  • Cotinine / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Nicotine / blood*
  • Nicotine / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Smoking / blood*
  • Smoking / metabolism


  • Nicotine
  • Cotinine