Environmental tobacco smoke in the early postnatal period induces impairment in brain myelination

Arch Toxicol. 2015 Nov;89(11):2051-8. doi: 10.1007/s00204-014-1343-2. Epub 2014 Sep 3.


Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is associated with high morbidity and mortality, mainly in children. However, few studies focus on the brain development effects of ETS exposure. Myelination mainly occurs in the early years of life in humans and the first three postnatal weeks in rodents and is sensitive to xenobiotics exposure. This study investigated the effects of early postnatal ETS exposure on myelination. BALB/c mice were exposed to ETS generated from 3R4F reference research cigarettes from the third to the fourteenth days of life. The myelination of nerve fibers in the optic nerve by morphometric analysis and the levels of Olig1 and myelin basic protein (MBP) were evaluated in the cerebellum, diencephalon, telencephalon, and brainstem in infancy, adolescence, and adulthood. Infant mice exposed to ETS showed a decrease in the percentage of myelinated fibers in the optic nerve, compared with controls. ETS induced a decrease in Olig1 protein levels in the cerebellum and brainstem and an increase in MBP levels in the cerebellum at infant. It was also found a decrease in MBP levels in the telencephalon and brainstem at adolescence and in the cerebellum and diencephalon at adulthood. The present study demonstrates that exposure to ETS, in a critical phase of development, affects the percentage of myelinated fibers and myelin-specific proteins in infant mice. Although we did not observe differences in the morphological analysis in adolescence and adulthood, there was a decrease in MBP levels in distinctive brain regions suggesting a delayed effect in adolescence and adulthood.

Keywords: Brain development; Environmental tobacco smoke; Myelination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Myelin Basic Protein / metabolism
  • Myelin Sheath / pathology*
  • Optic Nerve / pathology
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects*


  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • Myelin Basic Protein
  • Olig1 protein, mouse
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution