In utero and early-life exposure to thirdhand smoke causes profound changes to the immune system

Clin Sci (Lond). 2021 Apr 30;135(8):1053-1063. doi: 10.1042/CS20201498.


Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common cancer in children. Thirdhand smoke (THS) is the residual tobacco contamination that remains after the smoke clears. We investigated the effects of THS exposure in utero and during early life in a transgenic Cdkn2a knockout mouse model that is vulnerable to the development of leukemia/lymphoma. Female mice, and their offspring, were exposed from the first day of pregnancy to weaning. Plasma cytokines, body weight and hematologic parameters were measured in the offspring. To investigate THS exposure effects on the development of leukemia/lymphoma, bone marrow (BM) was collected from control and THS-exposed mice and transplanted into BM-ablated recipient mice, which were followed for tumor development for 1 year. We found that in utero and early-life THS exposure caused significant changes in plasma cytokine concentrations and in immune cell populations; changes appeared more pronounced in male mice. Spleen (SP) and BM B-cell populations were significantly lower in THS-exposed mice. We furthermore observed that THS exposure increased the leukemia/lymphoma-free survival in BM transplantation recipient mice, potentially caused by THS-induced B-cell toxicity. A trend towards increased solid tumors in irradiated mice reconstituted with THS-exposed BM stimulates the hypothesis that the immunosuppressive effects of in utero and early-life THS exposure might contribute to carcinogenesis by lowering the host defense to other toxic exposures. Our study adds to expanding evidence that THS exposure alters the immune system and that in utero and early-life developmental periods represent vulnerable windows of susceptibility for these effects.

Keywords: immunology; leukemia; lymphoma; thirdhand smoke.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Immune System / drug effects*
  • Leukemia / etiology*
  • Leukemia / immunology
  • Lymphoma / etiology*
  • Lymphoma / immunology
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Nicotiana / adverse effects*
  • Smoke / adverse effects*
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / analysis


  • Smoke
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution