Maternal Smoking may Increase Newborns’ Discomfort
Philadelphia, PA, October 21, 2009 - A new research study being published in the October 15th issue of Biological Psychiatry suggests that maternal smoking may increase the level of distress of newborns.
Studies have consistently found that prenatal cigarette smoke exposure is associated with increased rates of behavior problems, irritability, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, the risk of violent offenses, conduct disorder, adolescent onset of drug dependence, and the risk for criminal arrest in offspring. This study adds another potential negative outcome to the list of reasons for mothers to stop smoking while pregnant.
Most of the effects of tobacco either during pregnancy or on postnatal outcomes are attributed to nicotine. However, smoking is associated with reduced monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) activity, enzymes that degrade brain neurotransmitters in smokers. Prenatal smoke exposure-induced low MAO-A activity in fetal life may dysregulate brain neurotransmission, creating a potential vulnerability to develop behavioral disorders later in life. This dysregulation can occur with or without interaction with nicotine’s effect on the developing brain.
French scientists compared blood biomarkers of MAO-A activity in smoking and non-smoking pregnant women and in the cord blood of their newborns. They also assessed the newborns’ comfort level during their first 48 hours of life. They found that MAO-A activity is reduced both in pregnant smokers and in their newborns. The newborns of smoking mothers also showed significantly more discomfort than those of non-smoking mothers, potentially related to MAO-A inhibition.
Corresponding author Dr. Ivan Berlin explained that this paper’s findings “may have implications for future research because it proposes a biological explanation for the previously demonstrated relationship between smoking during pregnancy and behavioral disorders in the offspring.”
“We know that maternal smoking can negatively affect a newborn in many ways, such as contributing to low birth weight. Berlin and colleagues provide new evidence that the newborns of mothers who smoke experience more behavioral discomfort, and they suggest a mechanism that helps to explain the cause of this discomfort,” commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. Although additional studies are needed, this work highlights the importance of targeting pregnant women for help to stop smoking.
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Notes to Editors:
The article is “Reduced Monoamine Oxidase A Activity in Pregnant Smokers and in Their Newborns” by Ivan Berlin, Claire Heilbronner, Sabine Georgieu, Cathy Meier, Jean-Marie Launay, and Odile Spreux-Varoquaux. Berlin is affiliated with Faculté de médicine, Université Paris 6, Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtrière, INSERM U894, Paris, France. Heilbronner is with Hôpital Necker Enfants Malades, Paris, France. Georgieu is from Centre Hospitalier de la Côte Basque, Bayonne, France. Meier is affiliated with Centre Hospitalier de Pau, Pau, France. Launay is with Hôpital Lariboisière, Paris, France. Spreux-Varoquaux is from Centre Hospitalier de Versailles, Université de Versailles St-Quentin-en-Yvelines, UFR Médicale Paris-Ile de France-Ouest, Le Chesnay, France.
The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 66, Issue 8 (October 15, 2009), published by Elsevier.
The authors’ disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.
John H. Krystal, M.D. is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available at
Full text of the article mentioned above is available upon request. Contact Jayne M. Dawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain a copy or to schedule an interview.
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This international rapid-publication journal is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry. It covers a broad range of topics in psychiatric neuroscience and therapeutics. Both basic and clinical contributions are encouraged from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major neuropsychiatric disorders. Full-length and Brief Reports of novel results, Commentaries, Case Studies of unusual significance, and Correspondence and Comments judged to be of high impact to the field are published, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Concise Reviews and Editorials that focus on topics of current research and interest are also published rapidly.
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Jayne M. Dawkins