The findings, published in the journal Experimental Physiology, showed that chemerin, a protein that is produced by fat cells and appears to play a role in energy storage, was more prevalent in the skin and isolated cells of infants whose mothers smoked during pregnancy.
Previous research had shown that chemerin is present in higher levels in the blood of obese people.
Chemerin is a newly discovered adipokine involved in inflammation, adipogenesis, angiogenesis and energy metabolism.
Chemerin increases food intake in animals by acting on hypothalamic stem cells, the tanycytes. It also increases cell expansion, inflammation and angiogenesis in adipose tissue thus resulting in obesity.
The new results suggest that smoking in pregnancy could lead to changes in the regulation of the genes that play an important role in fat cell development and, by extension, obesity.
“It has been consistently shown that mothers who smoke during pregnancy confer increased risk of obesity to their baby, but the mechanisms responsible for this increased risk are not well understood,” said Kevin Pearson from the University of Kentucky in the US.
“Our work demonstrated that expectant mothers who smoke cigarettes during pregnancy induce distinct changes in chemerin gene expression in their offspring,” Pearson said.
For the study, the researchers recruited a total of 65 new mothers. All of the infants were full-term and approximately half of all new mothers reported smoking during their pregnancies.
The current and future results could provide a springboard for the development of effective treatments against pediatric and adult obesity in babies born to smokers as well as those exposed to other in utero environmental exposures, the team noted.
The danger of smoking during pregnancy does not stop at obesity. Smoking restricts the amount of oxygen required for the growing baby to survive resulting in rapid heart palpitations. It also carries a major risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.
Previous cases have reported of children who are born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy being born with several disorders and birth defects like cancer, decreased lung capacity, skin growths, etc.
Although the number of smokers around the globe is decreasing at a leisurely pace, there are still an alarming number of people who are addicted to nicotine.
It was not until the 1990s that world governments started pushing for aggressive campaigning against smoking and now, almost every country sells cigarettes in packets which depict horrific pictures of cancer patients to deter people from smoking.