Developmental effects of maternal smoking during pregnancy on the human frontal cortex transcriptome


Cigarette smoking during pregnancy is a major public health concern. While there are well-described consequences in early child development, there is very little known about the effects of maternal smoking on human cortical biology during prenatal life. We therefore performed a genome-wide differential gene expression analysis using RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) on prenatal (N=33; 16 smoking-exposed) as well as adult (N=207; 57 active smokers) human post-mortem prefrontal cortices. Smoking exposure during the prenatal period was directly associated with differential expression of 14 genes; in contrast, during adulthood, despite a much larger sample size, only 2 genes showed significant differential expression (FDR<10%). Moreover, 1,315 genes showed significantly different exposure effects between maternal smoking during pregnancy and direct exposure in adulthood (FDR<10%) - these differences were largely driven by prenatal differences that were enriched for pathways previously implicated in addiction and synaptic function. Furthermore, prenatal and age-dependent differentially expressed genes were enriched for genes implicated in non-syndromic autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and were differentially expressed as a set between patients with ASD and controls in post-mortem cortical regions. These results underscore the enhanced sensitivity to the biological effect of smoking exposure in the developing brain and offer novel insight into the effects of maternal smoking during pregnancy on the prenatal human brain. They also begin to address the relationship between in utero exposure to smoking and the heightened risks for the subsequent development of neuropsychiatric disorders.

bioRxiv 236968