The present study tested the hypothesis that prenatal nicotine exposure (PNE) induces sex specific alternations in indices of cardiorespiratory coupling during early development. Rat pups exposed to either nicotine (6 mg/kg/day) or saline (control) in utero were chronically instrumented with ECG electrodes for measurement of heart rate (HR) and respiratory frequency (RF) was monitored by whole body plethysmography on postnatal days (P)13, P16 and P26. PNE had no identifiable effect on resting respiratory frequency (RF) in either sex. There was however a strong trend (p = 0.057) for resting HR to be elevated by PNE in male offspring only. Alternatively, the HR response to hypoxia (10% O2), was significantly blunted at P13 but significantly elevated at P26 s in the absence of any significant change in RF in PNE males only. Indicators of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) were also significantly reduced in P26 PNE males. No significant effects of PNE on HR, RF or RSA were identified in female offspring at any age. Our results demonstrate that PNE induces very specific changes in cardiorespiratory integration at select postnatal ages and these changes are more prominent in males. Additionally, alternations in cardiorespiratory integration appear to persist into later development in males only, potentially increasing the risk for cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension later in life.Highlights
□ PNE did not affect resting cardiorespiratory variables at postnatal day 13 or 16. □ PNE blunted the heart response to hypoxia in males only at postnatal day 13. □ PNE reduced respiratory sinus arrhythmia in males during early adolescence. □ PNE augments the heart rate responses to hypoxia during early adolescence.