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The epigenetics of maternal cigarette smoking during pregnancy and effects on child development

  • Valerie S. Knopik (a1) (a2), Matthew A. Maccani (a1) (a2), Sarah Francazio (a1) (a3) and John E. McGeary (a1) (a2) (a4)

The period of in utero development is one of the most critical windows during which adverse intrauterine conditions and exposures can influence the growth and development of the fetus as well as the child's future postnatal health and behavior. Maternal cigarette smoking during pregnancy remains a relatively common but nonetheless hazardous in utero exposure. Previous studies have associated prenatal smoke exposure with reduced birth weight, poor developmental and psychological outcomes, and increased risk for diseases and behavioral disorders later in life. Researchers are now learning that many of the mechanisms whereby maternal smoke exposure may affect key pathways crucial for proper fetal growth and development are epigenetic in nature. Maternal cigarette smoking during pregnancy has been associated with altered DNA methylation and dysregulated expression of microRNA, but a deeper understanding of the epigenetics of maternal cigarette smoking during pregnancy as well as how these epigenetic changes may affect later health and behavior remain to be elucidated. This article seeks to explore many of the previously described epigenetic alterations associated with maternal cigarette smoking during pregnancy and assess how such changes may have consequences for both fetal growth and development, as well as later child health, behavior, and well-being. We also outline future directions for this new and exciting field of research.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Valerie S. Knopik, Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center, Coro West, Suite 204, Hoppin Street, Providence, RI 02903; E-mail:
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