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Brain Res Dev Brain Res. 2003 Dec 30;147(1-2):201-7.

Prenatal cannabinoid and gene expression for neural adhesion molecule L1 in the fetal rat brain.

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Departamento de Bioquímica y Biología Molecular, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad Compultense de Madrid, Spain.


The consumption by women of cannabis derivatives during pregnancy and/or lactation affects the development of their offspring because like other psychoactive drugs, cannabinoids, the psychoactive ingredients of marijuana, can cross the placental barrier and be secreted into the maternal milk. Through this way, cannabinoids are able to affect the expression of key genes for neural developmental leading to neurotransmitter and behavioral disturbances. In this present study, we wanted to explore the influence of prenatal cannabinoid exposure on the gene expression of a key protein for brain development, the neural adhesion molecule L1, which plays an important role in processes of cell proliferation and migration, neuritic elongation and guidance, and synaptogenesis. To this end, pregnant rats were daily treated with delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta9-THC) since the 5th day of gestation up to the day before birth (GD21), day at which rats were killed and their pups removed for analysis of L1-mRNA levels in different brain structures. Our results confirmed that the levels of L1 transcripts were significantly increased after prenatal delta9-THC exposure in several regions such as the fimbria, stria terminalis, stria medullaris and corpus callosum, which share the properties of being white matter regions and containing, exclusively during development, an abundant population of cannabinoid CB1 receptors, the major targets for the action of plant-derived cannabinoids. L1-mRNA levels were also increased in grey matter structures such as the septum nuclei and the habenula, but remained unchanged in most of the grey matter structures analyzed (cerebral cortex, basolateral amygdaloid nucleus, hippocampus, thalamic and hypothalamic nuclei, basal ganglia and subventricular zones) and also in a few white matter structures (fornix and fasciculus retroflexus). An important aspect of these observations is that the increase in L1-mRNA levels reached statistical significance only in the case of delta9-THC-exposed males but not in the case of delta9-THC-exposed females where only trends or no effects were detected, this supporting previous evidence on a sexual dimorphism, with greater effects in male fetuses, for the action of cannabinoids in the developing brain. In summary, cannabinoids seem to influence the expression of L1 in specific brain structures during the prenatal period, which, considering the role played by this protein in different events related to neural development, might explain the neurotransmitter and behavioral disturbances reported after prenatal consumption of marijuana.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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