Stem cells show how nicotine affects early pregnancy.

Nov 14, 2008

Zdravkovic T, Genbaceva O, LaRocquea N, McMaster M, S Fisher. 2008. Human embryonic stem cells as a model system for studying the effects of smoke exposure on the embryo. Reproductive Toxicology online July 23.

Synopsis by Jennifer Adibi

Nicotine interferes with implantation and increases cell death in the very early stages of pregnancy that could lead to infertility and fetal loss, finds new research using human stem cells to uncover how and when things can go wrong in the womb after a chemical exposure.

New research finds that that federally-approved human stem cells offer a good model system to study the effects of nicotine on early pregnancy and fetal development.

Using human stem cells, the new technique  offers clear advantages over using mouse stem cells.

A team of scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, exposed the stem cells to nicotine and kept them alive long enough to measure the effects. Compared to control cells, they were less likely to stick to a surface meant to mimic the uterine wall, were abnormal in appearance and were more likely to die.

These changes could impair a woman’s ability to become pregnant and the embryo survival after it implants. Specific cell lines that have been approved by the federal government were used for these experiments. Exposure to active and passive cigarette smoke among pregnant women is still a problem, especially in European countries. Babies born to moms who smoke are smaller and suffer from higher frequency of pregnancy complications. In earlier studies, this same group showed that nicotine had harmful effects on placental development.