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Your Environment. Your Health.

Duke University

Neurodevelopment and Improving Children’s Health following EtS exposure (NICHES)

Susan Murphy, Ph.D.

Pediatric Health Specialist: Scott Kollins, Ph.D.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children


Environmental Exposures

Environmental tobacco smoke

Primary Health Outcomes

ADHD, neurobehavioral dysfunction, epigenetics

The Center for Study of Neurodevelopment and Improving Children's Health Following Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) Exposure (NICHES) seeks to understand how environmental tobacco smoke exposure increases the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) through epigenetic alterations. Epigenetic changes modify gene expression without changing the genetic code. Researchers are studying data that comes from children participating in the Newborn Epigenetics Study (NEST), which is following the children of more than 2,500 women who were recruited during pregnancy.

The center integrates animal, cell, and clinical studies to identify how epigenetic changes caused by developmental ETS exposure are expressed in the brain and how these changes influence neurobehavioral dysfunction in children. Center members will determine whether these changes are also detectable in the blood as part of an effort to discern an epigenetic signature of developmental ETS exposure. Center work may result in development of clinically-relevant biomarkers and/or targets for development of novel treatments. The center shares its findings to inform the public about the risks of environmental tobacco smoke exposure on the health of pregnant women, children, and potentially future generations.

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Project 1: Tobacco smoke exposure, epigenetics, and cognitive deficits in children

Project leader: Bernard Frank Fuemmeler, Ph.D.

This project combines biological and behavioral data to evaluate the associations of ETS exposure on cognitive and neurobehavioral outcomes across early development and examines the role of exposure-induced DNA methylation changes on these outcomes. The data comes from children participating in NEST.

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Project 2: Mechanisms of neurobehavioral dysfunction from developmental nicotine & tobacco

Project leader: Edward Levin

Using rat models and cultured neuronal cells, researchers are studying how early life ETS exposure affects the development of neurons, neural circuits, and behavior. This project will model nicotine and smoke exposure during development to see how they affect attention, memory, and impulsiveness, as assessed in project 1.

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Project 3: Epigenomic consequences of early life environmental tobacco smoke exposure

Project leader: Susan Murphy, Ph.D.

Tissue from the rat models in project 2 are used to investigate whether epigenetics might link ETS exposure in early life to later development of ADHD. Genes identified in this work could pave the way for developing biological indicators, or biomarkers, based on epigenetic changes and provide information useful for developing diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic tools that allow earlier recognition of risk, as well as intervention opportunities.

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Community Outreach and Translation Core

Core Leader: Rochelle Schwartz-Bloom, Ph.D.

The Community Outreach and Translation Core (COTC) plans to translate the center’s findings using a social-media approach that engages the community stakeholders in the development of the communication materials. The goal of this science education approach is to help the public grasp the importance of the impact of exposure to toxins such as environmental tobacco smoke on the health of their children so that they can make appropriate decisions to abstain from smoking tobacco products and to avoid exposure to others who smoke.

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