Trans-placental transfer of nicotine: Modulation by organic cation transporters

I. Hsin Lin, Ling Yang, Jeffrey W. Dalley, Tung Hu Tsai*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Nicotine is a highly addictive substance and harmful to the developing foetus. However, few studies have investigated the transporter mechanism responsible for regulating the transfer of nicotine across the blood-placental interface. A multiple in-vivo microdialysis system coupled to ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (UHPLC-MS/MS) was developed to monitor simultaneously nicotine and cotinine in the blood, placenta, foetus, and amniotic fluid of pregnant rats. The pharmacological mechanism of nicotine transfer across the placenta was investigated by co-administering corticosterone, an inhibitor of organic cation transporters (OCTs) that partly mediate the exchange of nicotine across the placenta. The results revealed that intravenously administered nicotine (1 mg/kg) was rapidly metabolised to cotinine with a transformation ratio (AUCcotinine/AUCnicotine) of 0.67 ± 0.08, 0.21 ± 0.05, 0.25 ± 0.12, 0.31 ± 0.05 in maternal blood, placenta, amniotic fluid, and foetus, respectively. The tissue transformation ratios (AUCtissue/AUCblood) were 0.83 ± 0.16, 0.65 ± 0.17, 0.57 ± 0.13 for nicotine, and 0.25 ± 0.06, 0.24 ± 0.12, 0.26 ± 0.04 for cotinine at placenta, amniotic fluid and foetus, respectively. Following the co-administration of corticosterone (2 mg/kg), the tissue transformation ratio of nicotine was significantly reduced in the placenta but was significantly increased in the foetus. Levels of cotinine were not significantly altered by the administration of corticosterone. These findings implicate OCT in mediating the transfer of nicotine across the blood-placenta barrier. Understanding the mechanism of nicotine transfer through the placenta may inform therapeutic strategies to lessen the exposure of the developing foetus to nicotine in the maternal bloodstream.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112489
JournalBiomedicine and Pharmacotherapy
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Blood-placental barrier
  • In-vivo microdialysis
  • Nicotine
  • Organic cation transporter
  • Pharmacokinetics
  • Transplacental transfer


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