09 January 2008

Teenagers Exposed to Nicotine will Fail at School

Teenagers Exposed to Nicotine will Fail at SchoolNicotine may cause the teenage brain to develop abnormally, resulting in changes to the structure of white matter - the neural tissue through which signals are relayed. Teenagers who smoke, or whose mothers smoked during pregnancy, are also more likely to suffer from auditory attention deficits, meaning they find it harder to concentrate on what is being said when other things are happening at the same time, according to an article published in The New Scientist.

Leslie Jacobsen of Yale University School of Medicine and team studied 33 teenagers - all their mothers had smoked during pregnancy. Twenty-five of the teens whose mothers had smoked during pregnancy were daily smokers themselves. They also studied another 34 teenagers whose mothers had not smoked during pregnancy - 14 of these teenagers were daily smokers.

Children with more white matter tend to have more problems interpreting sounds, the scientists explain. The scans revealed that the teenagers who were exposed to nicotine also had more white matter than those who did not. Nicotine stimulates acetylcholine. Over-stimulated acetylcholine leads to the over-production of white matter.

The teenagers, aged 13-18 were given a test. They had to recognize words by hearing them while being exposed to background noise and visual images (distractions). The boys who had been exposed to nicotine got 77% of the words right, compared to 85% for those who had not been exposed. The girls who had been exposed got 84% right, compared to 90% for those who had not been exposed.

The researchers explained that people who are affected will have problems in settings where there is a distraction, such as in the classroom when other people are talking and there is a lot going on. Combine this problem with other conditions, such as behavioral disorders, and the chances of a child failing at school are greater.