The greater incidence of myocardial infarction, cardiac arrest, and ischemic stroke among women who smoke and use oral contraception (OC) compared to women who do not smoke and who do or do not use OC may be due in part to how nicotine influences endocrine function in women. For example, we recently demonstrated that chronic exposure to nicotine, the addictive agent in tobacco smoke responsible for the elevated risk of cardiac arrest, abolishes the endogenous or exogenous 17β-estradiol-conferred protection of the hippocampus against global cerebral ischemia (a potential outcome of cardiac arrest) in naive or ovariectomized female rats. In the current study we examined the hypotheses that (1) a synergistic deleterious effect of nicotine plus oral contraceptives exacerbates post-ischemic hippocampal damage in female rats, and (2) nicotine directly inhibits estrogen-mediated intracellular signaling in the hippocampus. To test first hypothesis and to simulate smoking behavior-induced nicotine levels in the human body, we implanted osmotic pumps containing nicotine in the female rats for 16 days. Furthermore, we mimicked the use of oral contraceptives in females by administering oral contraceptives orally to the rat. Rats exposed to either nicotine alone or in combination with oral contraceptives were subjected to an episode of cerebral ischemia and the resultant brain damage was quantified. These results showed for the first time that nicotine with oral contraceptives did indeed exacerbate post-ischemic CA1 damage as compared to nicotine alone in naive female rats. In ex vivo hippocampal slice cultures, we found that nicotine alone or with 17β-estradiol directly hinders estrogen receptors-mediated phosphorylation of cyclic-AMP element binding protein, a process required for neuronal survival and also exacerbates ischemic damage. Thus, nicotine can affect the outcome of cerebral ischemia by influencing brain endocrine function directly rather than through indirect systemic effects.
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