British Journal of Nutrition

Papers of direct relevance to Clinical and Human Nutrition

Maternal adipose tissue response to nicotine administration in the pregnant rat: effects on fetal body fat and cellularity

Christine M. Williamsa1 and Tazeen Kanagasabaia1

a1 Department of Biological Sciences, North East Surrey College of Technology, Reigate Road, Ewell, Surrey KT17 3DS


1. Nicotine has been implicated as a causative factor in the intrauterine growth retardation associated with smoking in pregnancy. A study was set up to ascertain the effect of nicotine on fetal growth and whether this could be related to the actions of this drug on maternal adipose tissue metabolism.

2. Sprague-Dawley rats were mated and assigned to control and nicotine groups, the latter receiving nicotine in the drinking-water throughout pregnancy. Animals were weighed at regular intervals and killed on day 20 of pregnancy. Rates of maternal adipose tissue lipolysis and lipogenesis were measured. Fetal and placental weights were recorded and analysis of fetal body water, fat, protein and DNA carried out.

3. Weight gains of mothers in the nicotine group were less in the 1st and 2nd weeks of pregnancy, but similar to controls in the 3rd week. Fetal body-weights, DNA, protein and percentage water contents were similar in both groups. Mean fetal body fat (g/kg) was significantly higher in the nicotine group (96.2 (se 5.1)) compared with controls (72.0 (se 2.9)). Rates of maternal lipolysis were also higher in the nicotine group.

4. The cause of these differences and their effects on maternal and fetal well-being is discussed.

(Received August 16 1982)

(Accepted April 12 1983)