Cannabis during pregnancy endangers fetal brain development

An increasing number of children suffer from the consequences of maternal drug exposure during pregnancy, and Cannabis is one of the most frequently used substances. This motivated the study, published in the EMBO Journal, cunducted in mice and human brain tissue, to decipher the molecular basis of how the major psychoactive component from Cannabis called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC affects brain development of the unborn foetus.

The study highlights that consuming Cannabis during clearly results in defective development of nerve cells of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that orchestrates higher cognitive functions and drives memory formation. In particular, THC negatively impacts if and how the structural platform and conduit for communication between nerve cells, the synapses and axons, will develop and function. Researchers also identified Stathmin-2 as a key protein target for THC action, and its loss is characterized as a reason for erroneous nerve growth. It is stressed that Cannabis exposure in experimental models precisely coincided with the fetal period when form connections amongst each other.

According to study leader Professor Tibor Harkany, who shares his time between Karolinska Institutet and the Medical University Vienna in Austria, these developmental deficits may evoke life-long modifications to the brain function of those affected. Even though not all children who have been exposed to Cannabis will suffer immediate and obvious deficits, Professor Harkany warns that relatively subtle damage can significantly increase the risk of delayed neuropsychiatric diseases.

"Even if THC only would cause small changes its effect may well be sufficient to sensitize the to later stressors or diseases to provoke neuropsychiatric illnesses in those affected in the future", says Professor Harkany. "This concerns also the medical use of Cannabis, which should be avoided during pregnancy."

More information: 'Miswiring the brain delta-9-tetra-hydro-cannabinol disrupts cortical development by inducing an SCG10/stathmin-2 degradation pathway', Giuseppe Tortoriello, Claudia V. Morris, Alan Alpar, Janos Fuzik, Sally L. Shirran, Daniela Calvigioni, Erik Keimpema, Catherine H. Botting, Kirstin Reinecke, Thomas Herdegen, Michael Courtney, Yasmin L. Hurd and Tibor Harkany, EMBO Journal, online 27 January 2014.

Related Stories

Global first: Easing cannabis withdrawal

Jan 16, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A world-first study led by the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) at UNSW has revealed a breakthrough for dependent cannabis users, employing a cannabis-based medication, ...

Recommended for you

Researchers try to make sure herpes does not find a home

21 minutes ago

The immune system is great at making sure infections such as the herpes virus do not repeatedly infect a person, a condition known as a superinfection. Yet how the immune system combats superinfection is ...

A new way to diagnose malaria, using magnetic fields

18 hours ago

Over the past several decades, malaria diagnosis has changed very little. After taking a blood sample from a patient, a technician smears the blood across a glass slide, stains it with a special dye, and ...

How Alzheimer's peptides shut down cellular powerhouses

Aug 29, 2014

The failing in the work of nerve cells: An international team of researchers led by Prof. Dr. Chris Meisinger from the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of the University of Freiburg has discovered ...

User comments