Although recent studies have demonstrated prenatal nicotine can increase cardiovascular risk in the offspring, it is unknown whether exposure to nicotine during pregnancy also may be a risk for development of arrhythmia in the offspring. In addition, in previous studies of fetal arrhythmia affected by smoking, only two patterns, bradycardia and tachycardia, were observed. The present study examined acute effects of maternal nicotine on the fetal arrhythmia in utero, and chronic influence on offspring arrhythmia at adult stage following prenatal exposure to nicotine. Nicotine was administered to pregnant ewes and rats. In the fetal sheep, intravenous nicotine not only induced changes of fetal heart rate, but also caused cardiac cycle irregularity, single and multiple dropped cardiac cycles. Although maternal nicotine had no influence on fetal blood pH, lactic acid, hemocrit, Na(+), K(+) levels and plasma osmolality, fetal blood PO(2) levels were significantly decreased following maternal nicotine in ewes. In offspring rats at 4-5 months after birth, prenatal exposure to nicotine significantly increased heart rate and premature ventricular contraction in restraint stress. In addition, arrhythmias induced by injection of nicotine were higher in the offspring prenatal exposure to nicotine in utero. The results provide new evidence that exposure to nicotine in pregnancy can cause fetal arrhythmia in various patterns besides tachycardia and bradycardia, the possible mechanisms for nicotine-induced fetal arrhythmia included in utero hypoxia. Importantly, following exposure to nicotine significantly increased risk of arrhythmia in the adult offspring. The finding offers new insight for development of cardiac rhythm problems in fetal origins.