Although there has been a decrease in the prevalence of tobacco smoking, exposure to nicotine during pregnancy remains a substantial problem worldwide. Further, given the recent escalation in e-cigarette use and legalization of cannabis, it has become essential to understand the effects of nicotine and cannabinoid co-exposure during early developmental stages.
We systematically examined the effects of nicotine and/or THC prenatal exposure on cognitive behaviors in male and female offspring. Dams were exposed to nicotine vape or vehicle, and oral edible THC or vehicle, throughout pregnancy. Adolescent offspring were then tested in the prepulse inhibition test, novel object recognition task, and novelty suppressed feeding task.
At birth, pups from mothers exposed to nicotine vape or oral THC exhibited reduced body weight, compared to control pups. Prenatal nicotine vape exposure resulted in a decreased baseline startle reactivity in adolescent male and female rats, and in females, enhanced sensorimotor gating in the prepulse inhibition test. Prenatal nicotine and THC co-exposure resulted in significant deficits in the prepulse inhibition test in males. Deficits in short-term memory were also found in males prenatally exposed to THC, either alone or with nicotine co-exposure, and in females exposed to THC alone. Finally, in males, a modest increase in anxiety-associated behaviors was found with THC or nicotine exposure in the latency to approach a novel palatable food.
These studies demonstrate differential effects of prenatal exposure to e-cigarette nicotine vape and/or edible THC on cognitive function, with differing effects within male and female groups.
These studies demonstrate an impact of nicotine, THC, or co-exposure during early developmental stages in utero on behavioral outcomes in adolescence. These findings have important translational implications given the continued use of nicotine and THC containing products by pregnant women worldwide, which can be applied to support healthcare and policy efforts restricting nicotine and THC use during pregnancy.

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