Although substantial evidence supports smoking as a risk factor for the development of multiple sclerosis (MS) in adulthood, it remains controversial as to whether early-life exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) increases the risk of MS later in life. Here, using experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) as an animal model for MS, we show that exposing neonatal rats during the 1st week (ETS1-EAE), but not the 2nd week (ETS2-EAE) and the 3rd week (ETS3-EAE) after birth, increased the severity of EAE in adulthood in comparison to pups exposed to filtered compressed air (AIR-EAE). The EST1-EAE rats showed a worse neurological deficit score and a significant increase in CD4+ cell infiltration, demyelination, and axonal injury in the spinal cord compared to AIR-EAE, ETS2-EAE, and ETS3-EAE groups. Flow cytometry analysis showed that the ETS1 group had decreased numbers of regulatory T (Treg) cells and increased effector T (Teff) cells in the brain and spinal cord. The expressions of Treg upstream regulator Foxp3 and downstream cytokines such as IL-10 were also altered accordingly. Together, these findings demonstrate that neonatal ETS exposure suppresses Treg functions and aggravates the severity of EAE, confirming early-life exposure to EST as a potential risk factor for multiple sclerosis in adulthood.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience