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8/7/2016

CEXS-UPF: Nicotine exposure during embryonic development causes epigenetic changes in the cerebral cortex

CEXS-UPF: Nicotine exposure during embryonic development causes epigenetic changes in the cerebral cortex


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About 10% of all pregnant women smoke or are somehow exposed to nicotine. So far the molecular mechanisms by which pre- and postnatal exposure to nicotine affect the baby's development, causing alterations in the brain that may be responsible for mental disorders such as attention deficit disorder, anxiety or depression were not known. Rafael Maldonado and Miquel Martin, coordinator and researcher respectively at the Neurophar Lab of UPF, analyze a study led by Marina R. Picciotto, principal investigator of the Division of Molecular Psychiatry at Yale University (USA), that sheds light on the molecular changes that nicotine causes during brain development.

According to the results of the study published in the Nature Neuroscience journal, the exposure to nicotine during embryonic development causes epigenetic changes in the cerebral cortex of mice, that is, DNA changes that alter the expression of different genes. Specifically, the altered genes encode proteins involved in neuronal plasticity, causing deficiencies in learning.

The fact that some mental disorders are due to epigenetic changes in the expression of different genes suggests that these alterations can be maintained throughout life. According to Maldonado, " learning failures caused by premature exposure to nicotine reflect defects in emotional learning". In fact, changes in plasticity of different brain areas have been linked to the development of drug addiction and eating disorders. These alterations in neuronal plasticity due to nicotine exposure could be the cause of any of these disorders, as Maldonado and Martin suggest.

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