Adolescent nicotine: Deficits in immune function
Maternal cigarette smoking during pregnancy is known to alter immune function in the offspring and recent studies with animals indicate that prenatal nicotine exposure leads to lasting deficiencies in T-lymphocyte mitogenic responses, likely through excessive cholinergic stimulation during a critical stage of development. The current study was conducted to determine if the vulnerable period for nicotine-induced mis-programming of immune responses extends into adolescence, the stage at which most smokers begin tobacco use. Adolescent rats were given nicotine via osmotic minipump infusions on postnatal days (PN) 30–47.5, using a regimen that produces plasma levels (25 ng/ml) of nicotine similar to those in smokers or in users of transdermal nicotine patches. Toward the end of the infusion period (PN45) and 1 month after termination of nicotine exposure (PN80), we examined the mitogenic responses of splenocytes to Concanavalin A. Although no deficiencies were seen on PN45, there were robust decreases in mitogenic responses on PN80, with deficits apparent at both suboptimal and optimal concentrations of Concanavalin A. These results indicate that the adolescent immune system is vulnerable to nicotine-induced disruption of T-cell function.