Newswise — Bethesda, MD – Findings from a new animal study suggest that maternal nicotine exposure during breastfeeding could be linked to problems with skull and face development. Although widespread research has focused on the effects of cigarettes, little work has examined nicotine alone. 

“Unlike many other studies, we isolated the common constituent of cigarettes, vaping technologies and many nicotine replacement therapies to specifically understand how nicotine by itself might alter development,” said research team leader James Cray, PhD, associate professor of anatomy at The Ohio State University. “Our findings suggest that mothers who vape while breastfeeding are likely exposing their infants to nicotine and that this can disturb growth much like cigarette exposure.” 

Amr Mohi, BDS, a teaching assistant and graduate student in Cray’s lab, was scheduled to present this research at the American Association for Anatomy annual meeting in San Diego this month. Though the meeting, to be held in conjunction with the 2020 Experimental Biology conference, was canceled in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the research team's abstract was published in this month's issue of The FASEB Journal.   

Maternal exposure to nicotine has been linked to increased craniofacial abnormalities such as craniosynostosis, a birth defect in which the bones in a baby's skull fuse too early. To better understand the timing involved in this exposure, the researchers used an imaging method known as microCT to measure skull and face bones in mouse offspring after maternal nicotine exposure during pregnancy or lactation. 

The researchers found that exposure during lactation alone—comparable to the time a mother would breastfeed her infant—was associated with abnormalities in craniofacial development. 

“Our findings suggest that nicotine alone can alter craniofacial development and show that nicotine cannot be viewed as a relatively safe chemical that only acts on addiction,” said Cray. 

The researchers plan to build on these findings by looking more closely at nicotine exposures from vaping. In one study, they are using cell models to better understand how nicotine and carrier components used for vaping may alter cellular processes. 

Contact the media team for more information. 

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About Experimental Biology 2020

Experimental Biology is an annual meeting that attracts more than 12,000 scientists and exhibitors from five host societies and more than two dozen guest societies. With a mission to share the newest scientific concepts and research findings shaping clinical advances, the meeting offers an unparalleled opportunity for exchange among scientists from across the U.S. and the world who represent dozens of scientific areas, from laboratory to translational to clinical research. #expbio


About the American Association for Anatomy (AAA)

The American Association for Anatomy is an international membership organization of biomedical researchers and educators specializing in the structural foundation of health and disease. AAA connects gross anatomists, neuroscientists, developmental biologists, physical anthropologists, cell biologists, physical therapists, and others to advance the anatomical sciences through research, education, and professional development. To join, visit


About The FASEB Journal

Receive monthly highlights from The FASEB Journal by e-mail. Sign up at The FASEB Journal is published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). It is among the most cited biology journals worldwide according to the Institute for Scientific Information and has been recognized by the Special Libraries Association as one of the top 100 most influential biomedical journals of the past century.


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Meeting Link: Experimental Biology 2020