A father's exposure to nicotine may cause cognitive deficits in his children and even grandchildren, according to a study in mice publishing on October 16 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Pradeep Bhide of Florida State University in Tallahassee and colleagues. The effect, which was not caused by direct secondhand exposure, may be due to epigenetic changes in key genes in the father's sperm.
Exposure of mothers to nicotine and other components of cigarette smoke is recognized as a significant risk factor for behavioral disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, (or ADHD) in multiple generations of descendants. Whether the same applies to fathers has been less clear, in part because in human studies it has been difficult to separate genetic factors (such as a genetic predisposition to ADHD) from environmental factors, such as direct exposure to cigarette smoke.
To overcome this difficulty, Deirdre McCarthy, Pradeep Bhide and colleagues exposed male mice to low-dose nicotine in their drinking water during the stage of life in which the mice produce sperm. They then bred these mice with females that had never been exposed to nicotine. While the fathers were behaviorally normal, both sexes of offspring displayed hyperactivity, attention deficit, and cognitive inflexibility. When female (but not male) mice from this generation were bred with nicotine-naïve mates, male offspring displayed fewer, but still significant, deficits in cognitive flexibility. Analysis of spermatozoa from the original nicotine-exposed males indicated that promoter regions of multiple genes had been epigenetically modified, including the dopamine D2 gene, critical for brain development and learning, suggesting that these modifications likely contributed to the cognitive deficits in the descendants.
Nicotine and cigarette smoke have been previously shown to cause widespread epigenetic changes, Bhide said. "The fact that men smoke more than women makes the effects in males especially important from a public health perspective. Our findings underscore the need for more research on the effects of smoking by the father, rather than just the mother, on the health of their children."
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Citation: McCarthy DM, Morgan TJ Jr, Lowe SE, Williamson MJ, Spencer TJ, Biederman J, et al. (2018) Nicotine exposure of male mice produces behavioral impairment in multiple generations of descendants. PLoS Biol 16(10): e2006497. https:/
Image Caption: A photomicrograph of a histological section of a mouse testis processed for immunohistochemistry for methylated DNA. Spermatozoa at different stages of maturation are labeled with the methylated DNA marker (arrow). The data show that nicotine increases DNA methylation in the spermatozoa. Inset shows isolated mature spermatozoa labeled with an immunohistochemical marker for the dopamine D2 receptor (white arrow). Data show that nicotine produces significant changes in DNA methylation in the promoter region of the D2 receptor gene in the spermatozo.
Image Credit: Pradeep G. Bhide, email@example.com
Funding: Jim and Betty Anne Rodgers Chair Fund at Florida State University (grant number F00662). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Escher Fund for Autism http://www.
Competing Interests: I have read the journal's policy and the authors of this manuscript have the following potential competing interests. Pradeep Bhide: Dr. Bhide is a co-founder and consultant to Avekshan LLC, Tallahassee, FL, a pharmaceutical enterprise engaged in the development of novel therapies for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Dr. Bhide is an inventor in following patents or patent applications relevant to ADHD therapy: US Patent, "Class of non-stimulant treatment and ADHD and related disorders" (#US9623023 B2), and US patent application, "Methods and compositions to prevent addiction (#US20130289061 A1). Deirdre McCarthy: Ms. McCarthy is a co-founder and consultant to Avekshan LLC, Tallahassee, FL, a pharmaceutical enterprise engaged in the development of novel therapies for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Thomas Spencer: Dr. Spencer received research support or was a consultant from the following sources: Alcobra, Avekshan, Ironshore, Lundbeck, Shire Laboratories Inc, Sunovion, the FDA, and the Department of Defense. Consultant fees are paid to the Clinical Trials Network at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and not directly to Dr. Spencer. Dr. Spencer has been on an advisory board for the following pharmaceutical companies: Alcobra. Dr. Spencer received research support from Royalties and Licensing fees on copyrighted ADHD scales through MGH Corporate Sponsored Research and Licensing. Through MGH corporate licensing, Dr. Spencer is an inventor on a US Patent, "Class of non-stimulant treatment and ADHD and related disorders" (#US9623023 B2), and US patent application, "Methods and compositions to prevent addiction" (#US20130289061 A1). Joseph Biederman: Dr. Biederman is currently receiving research support from the following sources: AACAP, The Department of Defense, Food & Drug Administration, Headspace, Lundbeck, Neurocentria Inc., NIDA, PamLab, Pfizer, Shire Pharmaceuticals Inc., Sunovion, and NIH. Dr. Biederman has a financial interest in Avekshan LLC, a company that develops treatments for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). His interests were reviewed and are managed by Massachusetts General Hospital and Partners HealthCare in accordance with their conflict of interest policies. Dr. Biederman's program has received departmental royalties from a copyrighted rating scale used for ADHD diagnoses, paid by Ingenix, Prophase, Shire, Bracket Global, Sunovion, and Theravance; these royalties were paid to the Department of Psychiatry at MGH. In 2017, Dr. Biederman is a consultant for Aevi Genomics, Akili, Guidepoint, Ironshore, Medgenics, and Piper Jaffray. He is on the scientific advisory board for Alcobra and Shire. He received honoraria from the MGH Psychiatry Academy for tuition-funded CME courses. Through MGH corporate licensing, he is an inventor on US Patent, "Class of non-stimulant treatment and ADHD and related disorders" (#US9623023 B2), and US patent application, "Methods and compositions to prevent addiction (#US20130289061 A1). In 2016, Dr. Biederman received honoraria from the MGH Psychiatry Academy for tuition-funded CME courses, and from Alcobra and APSARD. He was on the scientific advisory board for Arbor Pharmaceuticals. He was a consultant for Akili and Medgenics. He received research support from Merck and SPRITES. Thomas Morgan, Sara Lowe, and Matthew Williamson have no competing interests to declare.