Impact of gestational nicotine exposure on intrauterine and fetal infection in a rodent model†

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We investigated the interaction between prenatal nicotine exposure and intrauterine infection using established rat models. Beginning at gestation day (GD) 6, dams were continuously infused with either saline or 6 mg/kg/day nicotine (Nic). At GD 14, dams received either sterile broth or 105 colony-forming units Mycoplasma pulmonis (MP), resulting in four treatment groups: control (4 dams, 33 fetal units); MP only (5 dams, 55 fetal units); Nic only (5 dams, 61 fetal units), and Nic + MP (7 dams, 82 fetal units). At GD 18, nicotine exposure significantly increased (P ≤ 0.02) the percentage of amniotic fluids and fetuses infected by MP but did not impact colonization rates of maternal sites. Nicotine exposure significantly reduced the numbers of MP in the placenta required for high microbial loads (≥104 color-changing units) in the amniotic fluid (P < 0.01). Fetal inflammatory response lesions were most extensive in the Nic only and Nic + MP groups (P < 0.0001). Control and MP only placentas were interleukin (IL)10-dominant, consistent with an M2/Th2 environment. Placentas exposed to nicotine shifted to a neutral environment, with equivalent levels of interferon gamma (IFNG) and IL10. Both IL6 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) levels in amniotic fluid were highly elevated when both nicotine and infection were present. Our study suggests that prenatal exposure to nicotine increases the risk for intrauterine infection, lowers the infectious dose required to breach the placental barrier and infect the amniotic fluid and fetus, and alters the pathology and inflammatory profile associated with maternal and fetal sites.

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