Alcohol, nicotine mix during pregnancy increases health risk
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University of Houston researchers have found that during early pregnancy, the mix of alcohol and nicotine significantly alters the gene regulatory pathways of the developing fetus, which can lead to major deficiencies in brain development. Metin Akay and John S. Dunn Endowed Chair Professor of biomedical engineering is reporting the findings, the first study of its kind, in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

"The alterations of these pathways are crucial since they are involved in neural network formation, cell development and communication," reports Akay. "Among pathways in which many genes and miRNAs were significantly altered in response to perinatal nicotine/alcohol co-exposure are dopamine cell growth, neuronal migration, neuronal axon guidance, neurotrophin signaling and glutamatergic synapse."

Addictive substances act on the brain's reward system by triggering the release of the dopamine hormone through the activation of the mesocorticolimbic DA system, also known as the reward circuitry in the brain.

"A characteristic structure of dopamine neurons are the long axons that project to different regions of the brain to build functional networks, which results in pathways such as the mesocorticolimbic DA system," said Akay. "It is highly likely that axon guidance is modulated in the newborn after perinatal substance abuse and may cause faulty assembly of the network."

The alterations in this pathway cause interruptions in cellular communication and development, and finally, lead to synaptic rearrangements in the plasticity and neurological disorders. It's no small problem.

Maternal substance abuse (drinking and smoking) during pregnancy increases health risks, including cognitive impairments, lower academic achievement, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the likelihood of substance abuse in newborns, and may even lead sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Despite these harmful effects, more than 10% of pregnant women drink and smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Following alcohol treatment, 1,257 unique genes were found to be differentially upregulated and 330 were differentially downregulated. Following perinatal nicotine-alcohol treatment contrasted against the alcohol group, 2,113 genes were upregulated and 1,836 were downregulated.

Source:https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-71875-1, Medical Xpress
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