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Epidemiological studies support an association between perinatal cigarette smoke (CS) exposure and a number of severe pre- and postnatal complications. However, the mechanisms through which CS enhances such risks largely remain unknown. One of the reasons for our inability to discover such mechanisms has been the unavailability of a clinically relevant and physiologically concordant animal model. A number of studies have previously used nicotine (Nic) as surrogate for CS. We sought to (1) establish the amount of CS exposure to achieve plasma Nic concentrations observed among moderate to heavy smokers (20-60 ng/ml), (2) investigate the temporal changes in plasma Nic concentrations, carboxyhemoglobin, and hematocrit with advancing pregnancy, and (3) elucidate the effects of CS exposure on pregnancy outcome. Pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed to various doses of CS or room air (Sham) from days 6 to 21 of gestation. Exposure to 6000 ml/day of CS led to very high plasma Nic concentrations and increased maternal and fetal mortality (P < 0.001). The plasma Nic concentrations remained higher than those observed in moderate smokers until the CS dose was reduced to 1000 ml/day and showed dose-dependent temporal changes with advancing gestational age. Significant increases in carboxyhemoglobin and hematocrit were observed in the CS group as compared with the Sham group (P < 0.001). In addition, prenatally CS exposed fetuses had lower birth weight as compared with the Sham group (P = 0.04). Our current study establishes a newly standardized and physiologically relevant model to investigate the mechanisms of CS-mediated adverse effects during the critical period of fetal development.