Association of maternal tobacco use during pregnancy with preadolescent brain morphology among offspring

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Abstract

Importance: Maternal tobacco use during pregnancy has been associated with various health consequences, including suboptimal neurodevelopment in offspring. However, the effect of prenatal exposure to maternal smoking on child brain development has yet to be elucidated.

Objective: To investigate the association between maternal smoking during pregnancy and offspring brain development in preadolescence as well as the mediating pathways.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This prospective, population-based cohort study was embedded in the Generation R Study, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The Generation R Study was launched in 2002, with follow-up ongoing. Child brain morphology was assessed at 9 to 11 years of age (ie, 10-12 years between exposure and outcome assessment). Data analysis was performed from March 1, 2021, to February 28, 2022, and at the time of manuscript revision. Participants included the singleton children of pregnant women residing in the study area with an expected date of delivery between April 1, 2002, and January 31, 2006; 2704 children with information on maternal smoking during pregnancy and structural neuroimaging at 9 to 11 years of age were included. A subsample of 784 children with data on DNA methylation at birth was examined in the mediation analysis.

Exposures: Information on maternal smoking during pregnancy was collected via a questionnaire in each trimester. As a contrast, paternal smoking was assessed at recruitment.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Brain morphology, including brain volumes and surface-based cortical measures (thickness, surface area, and gyrification), was assessed with magnetic resonance imaging. For mediation analysis, DNA methylation at birth was quantified by a weighted methylation risk score.

Results: The 2704 participating children (1370 [50.7%] girls and 1334 [49.3%] boys) underwent brain imaging assessment at a mean (SD) age of 10.1 (0.6) years. Compared with nonexposed children (n = 2102), exposure to continued maternal smoking during pregnancy (n = 364) was associated with smaller total brain volume (volumetric difference [b] = -14.5 [95% CI, -25.1 to -4.0] cm3), cerebral gray matter volume (b = -7.8 [95% CI, -13.4 to -2.3] cm3), cerebral white matter volume (b = -5.9 [95% CI, -10.7 to -1.0] cm3), and surface area and less gyrification. These associations were not explained by paternal smoking nor mediated by smoking-associated DNA methylation patterns at birth. Children exposed to maternal smoking only in the first trimester (n = 238) showed no differences in brain morphology compared with nonexposed children.

Conclusions and Relevance: The findings of this cohort study suggest that continued maternal tobacco use during pregnancy was associated with lower brain volumes and suboptimal cortical traits of offspring in preadolescence, which seemed to be independent of shared family factors. Tobacco cessation before pregnancy, or as soon as pregnancy is known, should be recommended to women for optimal brain development of their offspring.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2224701
Pages (from-to)E2224701
JournalJAMA network open
Volume5
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022

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