Smoking during pregnancy linked to cerebral palsy, animal studies show

October 6, 2017, University of Technology, Sydney
Animal studies show that smoking during pregnancy can be linked to neurological disorders in offspring such as cerebral palsy. Credit: University of Technology, Sydney

Scientists investigating the underlying mechanism causing cell death and damage have confirmed links between maternal smoking and cerebral palsy, the most common physical disability in childhood.

When not enough blood and oxygen reach the developing brain the resultant injury, known as a Hypoxia-ischemic injury (HII), reduces the wellbeing of the cellular 'powerhouse' mitochondria resulting in . This leads to increased cell death in the offspring's brain. Cerebral palsy is caused by increased in several brain regions that regulate movement and memory retention. Approximately 34,000 people are living with in Australia.

"By identifying the mechanism, we will be better able to identify potential preventative strategies and improve the neurological outcome in babies of smoking mothers," said Dr Hui Chen, University of Technology Sydney Senior Lecturer and lead researcher.

The researchers conclude that smokers should give up smoking well in advance of falling pregnant. "What we have observed so far is that in order to avoid harm to their baby, mothers need to give up smoking several months or even years before their pregnancy, as smoking will affect the quality of their eggs before they are even fertilised," said Dr Chen.

Dr Chen and her colleagues from the UNSW Sydney, Kolling Research Institute, the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, the University of Sydney used mouse models to show that affects the functioning of mitochondrial cells responsible for powering the body's biological processes.

The research showed that mouse pups with high levels of oxidative stress in the brain are more likely to develop functional disorders. "We found that pups from smoking mothers are more clumsy at adolescent age, have less strength in their limbs, are more anxious, and have poor memory function which many affect their learning ability," said Dr Chen. In particular, the learning ability is worsened if the pups had hypoxic-ischemic injury.

"The increased oxidative stress is mainly because the mitochondria are unable to produce enough antioxidants to clear toxic chemicals called free radicals, causing harmful chemical build up in the brains of pups from the mothers exposed to cigarette smoke," said Dr Chen.

A potential preventative strategy may be to provide mothers with antioxidant supplementation during pregnancy. Previous studies carried out by this research team found the antioxidant L-carnitine given to pregnant exposed to can improve the health outcomes of kidneys and respiratory system in offspring.

"The next step will be to use such a treatment to improve functional outcomes in pups from the ," said Dr Chen. "However, the message for the public is if you want a healthy baby, you need to stop long before you plan for the pregnancy."

The results of the research are published in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience.

Explore further: Research sheds new light on why smoking in pregnancy is harmful

More information: Yik L. Chan et al. Maternal Cigarette Smoke Exposure Worsens Neurological Outcomes in Adolescent Offspring with Hypoxic-Ischemic Injury, Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fnmol.2017.00306

Related Stories

Research sheds new light on why smoking in pregnancy is harmful

August 7, 2017
Maternal smoking during pregnancy contributes to various long-term health problems in offspring, especially respiratory disorders.

Maternal diet could affect kids' brain reward circuitry

September 25, 2017
Researchers in France found that rats who ate a junk food diet during pregnancy had heavier pups that strongly preferred the taste of fat straight after weaning. While a balanced diet in childhood seemed to reduce the pups' ...

Smoking during pregnancy linked to childhood obesity

September 26, 2017
Children born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy are more likely to be overweight or obese than if the mother did not according to research from the University of Aberdeen.

Damaging legacy: Mothers who smoke affect the fertility of their sons

September 30, 2014
Mothers who smoke while they are pregnant or breast feeding may be damaging the future fertility of their sons, according to new findings from research in mice published online today (Wednesday) in Human Reproduction, one ...

Smoking while pregnant may compromise children's kidney function

December 22, 2016
In a new study, young children showed signs of kidney damage if their mothers smoked while pregnant. The findings, which appear in an upcoming issue of the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN), add ...

Mothers who vape during pregnancy put babies at asthma risk

April 13, 2017
A UTS-led study of the effects of smoking electronic cigarettes during pregnancy has been hailed by the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) in its stand against legalising nicotine in e-cigarettes.

Recommended for you

Fruit and vegetables linked to changes in skin colour, new research finds

June 21, 2018
Skin colour in young Caucasian men is strongly linked to high levels of fruit and vegetable consumption, new research by Curtin University has found.

Fans of yoga therapy have yet to win over doctors

June 21, 2018
Yoga practitioners often tout the unique health benefits of the ancient discipline—from relieving stress and pain to improving vascular health—but most doctors remain sceptical in the absence of hard proof.

Medicaid work requirements and health savings accounts may impact people's coverage

June 20, 2018
Current experimental approaches in Medicaid programs—including requirements to pay premiums, contribute to health savings accounts, or to work—may lead to unintended consequences for patient coverage and access, such ...

What a pain: The iPad neck plagues women more

June 20, 2018
Is your iPad being a literal pain in the neck?

Introduction of alcohol found to adversely impact fertility rates in hunter-gatherer community

June 19, 2018
Fernando Ramirez Rozzi, a research director with the French National Centre for Scientific Research has found that the introduction of alcohol to a Baka pygmy hunter-gatherer society caused fertility rates to fall. In his ...

Living the high life: How altitude influences bone growth

June 19, 2018
High altitude is a particularly challenging environment—the terrain is physically challenging and the land has a relatively poor crop yield, so food can be sparse. Most importantly, oxygen levels are lower meaning that ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.