Investigation Of Prenatal Smoking Link With
Antisocial Behavior In Children
February 3, 2009
A Cardiff University research project has for the first time studied whether
smoking during pregnancy can directly make children more likely to behave
The unique study by scientists at the University's Schools of Medicine and
Psychology examined the records of 779 children born by in-vitro fertilisation (IVF)
whose prenatal environment was provided by either a related mother or an
unrelated mother. They found a link between anti-social behaviour in children
whose mothers smoked in pregnancy - but only when the mother was genetically
linked to the child.
When the child came from a donated egg and donated embryo - egg or embryo
donation or surrogacy - there was no link, suggesting factors other than smoking
during pregnancy influence anti-social behaviour.
The results of the study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, are published in Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences.
It is well-established that smoking during pregnancy, whether the mother is
genetically related to the baby or not has an adverse effect on birth weight.
However, links between what mothers do in pregnancy and how it may affect the
mental health and behaviour of children are less researched. While mothers who
smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have anti-social children, it has not
been clear if this is a direct result of the smoking. The Cardiff University
researchers were able to study IVF children, with differing degrees of genetic
relation to their parents, to disentangle the effects of genetic influences and
the prenatal environment.
The study is the first study of its kind in the world to allow these effects to
be separated. In the published paper, the researchers looked at effects of
mother's smoking in pregnancy on the child's birth weight and the child's
behaviour, paying particular attention to mothers not genetically related to
their unborn baby.
Professor Anita Thapar, clinical child psychiatrist and Principal Investigator
on the study said: "What we have been able to confirm is that cigarette
smoke in pregnancy does lower birth weight regardless of whether the mother and
child are genetically related or not, but the link with children's behaviour is
different. It is now clear that offspring anti-social behaviour is more
dependent on inherited factors passed from mother to child, as our group of
children with mothers who smoked during pregnancy with no direct genetic link
showed no increased signs of anti-social behaviour. This suggests that other
influencing factors such as the mother's personality traits and other inherited
characteristics are at play during the development of a baby."
Professor Thapar, who is based in the School of Medicine's Department of
Psychological Medicine and Neurosciences and Mental Health Interdisciplinary
Research Group worked with Dr Frances Rice (first author) and Professor Gordon
Harold along with other researchers from the School of Psychology. She believes
this unique approach opens the way to tease apart the effect of genes and
environment on a variety of other conditions in the future and has significant
policy implications. She said: "This type of research is able to tell us
what sorts of interventions in pregnancy are the right ones to focus on in order
to improve the physical and mental health of children."
Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release.
About the study
This research is published online in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences, week of February 2, 2009 under the title
Disentangling prenatal and inherited influences in humans with an experimental
The other Cardiff University authors of the paper are: Dr Frances Rice, formerly
School of Medicine, Cardiff University; Professor Gordon Harold, formerly School
of Psychology; Dr Jacky Boivin, School of Psychology; Professor Dale Hay, School
of Psychology, Dr Marianne van den Bree, School of Medicine.
The Study received £125,000 from a Wellcome Trust Showcase Award for novel
research, and a further £385,000 Project Grant to conduct the study.
The Department of Psychological Medicine and Neurosciences and Mental Health
Interdisciplinary Research Group was ranked joint first in the UK in terms of
research of international excellence in the recent RAE.
Cardiff School of Medicine
Cardiff University's School of Medicine is a significant
contributor to healthcare in Wales, a major provider of professional staff for
the National Health Service and an international centre of excellence for
research delivering substantial health benefits locally and internationally. The
School is an international leader in basic and clinically applied research
activities. School of Medicine researchers annually win tens of millions of
pounds in research awards to work with Government, the healthcare industries and
the charitable sector on the most pressing issues of human health.
About Cardiff University
Cardiff University is recognised in independent government
assessments as one of Britain's leading teaching and research universities and
is a member of the Russell Group of the UK's most research intensive
universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the
winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded
by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern
facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University's
breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the
humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering
and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding
commitment to lifelong learning. Visit the University website at: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk
About the School of Psychology
The School of Psychology at Cardiff is one of the largest
departments of psychology in the United Kingdom. There are currently over 50
academic staff, 100+ research staff and a further 20+ Research Fellows
(including Royal Society, BBSRC, ESRC, Leverhulme Trust and British Academy
Research Fellows). The School also has over 120 full-time students studying for
Doctorates, both in research and on our professional Doctorate programmes. Each
year it admits around 200 students to the Undergraduate degree programmes in
Psychology and Psychology with Professional Placement. The general resources in
the School are excellent and the provision of equipment is second to none. The
School's strengths are aligned with six themes which encompass the range of
research interests in the School and reflect the commitment to studying
psychology from a scientific perspective whilst covering topics from synapse to
society: Behavioural Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience, Cognitive Psychology,
Health and Mental Health, Perception and Performance, Social and Developmental
About the Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative
biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending over £600 million
each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome
Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health
and wellbeing. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk
Source: Lowri Jones
Medical News Today: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com
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