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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Qualitatively and quantitatively similar effects of active and passive maternal tobacco smoke exposure on in utero mutagenesis at the HPRT locus

Stephen G Grant

Author Affiliations

Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15260, USA

BMC Pediatrics 2005, 5:20  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-5-20

Published: 29 June 2005

Abstract

Background

Induced mutagenesis in utero is likely to have life-long repercussions for the exposed fetus, affecting survival, birth weight and susceptibility to both childhood and adult-onset diseases, such as cancer. In the general population, such exposures are likely to be a consequence of the lifestyle choices of the parents, with exposure to tobacco smoke one of the most pervasive and easily documented. Previous studies attempting to establish a direct link between active smoking and levels of somatic mutation have largely discounted the effects of passive or secondary exposure, and have produced contradictory results.

Methods

Data from three studies of possible smoking effects on in utero mutagenesis at the HPRT locus were compiled and reanalyzed, alone and in combination. Where possible, passive exposure to environmental tobacco smoke was considered as a separate category of exposure, rather than being included in the non-smoking controls. Molecular spectra from these studies were reanalyzed after adjustment for reported mutation frequencies from the individual studies and the entire data set.

Results

A series of related studies on mutation at the X-linked HPRT locus in human newborn cord blood samples has led to the novel conclusion that only passive maternal exposure to tobacco mutagens has a significant effect on the developing baby. We performed a pooled analysis of the complete data from these studies, at the levels of both induced mutation frequency and the resulting mutational spectrum.

Conclusion

Our analysis reveals a more commonsensical, yet no less cautionary result: both active maternal smoking and secondary maternal exposure produce quantitatively and qualitatively indistinguishable increases in fetal HPRT mutation. Further, it appears that this effect is not perceptibly ameliorated if the mother adjusts her behavior (i.e. stops smoking) when pregnancy is confirmed, although this conclusion may also be affected by continued passive exposure.