Smoking Harms Embryos at The Cellular Level

It is well known that smoking a mother during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriages, restricting fetal growth and premature birth. Smoking is also closely associated with adverse cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine, metabolic and neurobehavioral consequences in offspring. It is believed that nicotine - the main culprit of all these ills.

For obvious reasons, most of the studies on nicotine harm to the fetus have been carried out in animal models. And although the damage was shown quite convincingly, there remained doubts whether these results could be translated into people. Sometimes nicotine toxicity was studied using human material using RNA sequencing; however, this approach did not allow investigating effects at the level of individual cells. As a result, the effect of nicotine on human embryonic development in fact remained poorly understood.

Until then, specialists from Stanford University did not use cellular RNA sequencing to analyze the effects of nicotine on human embryonic pluripotent cells, which give rise to the brain, heart, liver, blood vessels, muscles and other organs. In total, more than 12,500 cells were analyzed, the doses of nicotine were similar to the doses entering the body of a smoking person.

Scientists have discovered that under the influence of nicotine, cell survival has fallen, this has shown the detrimental effect of nicotine already at the preimplantation stage.

Exposure to nicotine reduced the size of embryoid bodies (embryonic structures containing various types of somatic cells) and increased the level of damaging molecules called active oxygen forms. In addition, it altered the cell cycle in progenitor cells and caused disruptions in intercellular communication.

The researchers also found that the action of nicotine led to altered gene expression associated with mitochondrial function, brain developmental defects and mental retardation, diseases of the muscles and lungs, as well as with arrhythmias.

This answers the question of how smoking simultaneously increases the pathological risk in the endocrine, reproductive, respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological systems, depending on the complex dynamic interactions between several cell types.

According to the researchers, the sadder is the fact that currently the introduction and distribution of new tobacco products containing nicotine, including electronic cigarettes, is very seriously slowing down progress towards minimizing the harm from smoking.

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