Long-term hippocampal interneuronopathy drives sex-dimorphic spatial memory impairment induced by prenatal THC exposure

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2020 Apr;45(5):877-886. doi: 10.1038/s41386-020-0621-3. Epub 2020 Jan 26.


Prenatal exposure to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the most prominent active constituent of cannabis, alters neurodevelopmental plasticity with a long-term functional impact on adult offspring. Specifically, THC affects the development of pyramidal neurons and GABAergic interneurons via cannabinoid CB1 receptors (CB1R). However, the particular contribution of these two neuronal lineages to the behavioral alterations and functional deficits induced by THC is still unclear. Here, by using conditional CB1R knockout mice, we investigated the neurodevelopmental consequences of prenatal THC exposure in adulthood, as well as their potential sex differences. Adult mice that had been exposed to THC during embryonic development showed altered hippocampal oscillations, brain hyperexcitability, and spatial memory impairment. Remarkably, we found a clear sexual dimorphism in these effects, with males being selectively affected. At the neuronal level, we found a striking interneuronopathy of CCK-containing interneurons in the hippocampus, which was restricted to male progeny. This THC-induced CCK-interneuron reduction was not evident in mice lacking CB1R selectively in GABAergic interneurons, thus pointing to a cell-autonomous THC action. In vivo electrophysiological recordings of hippocampal LFPs revealed alterations in hippocampal oscillations confined to the stratum pyramidale of CA1 in male offspring. In addition, sharp-wave ripples, a major high-frequency oscillation crucial for learning and memory consolidation, were also altered, pointing to aberrant circuitries caused by persistent reduction of CCK+ basket cells. Taken together, these findings provide a mechanistic explanation for the long-term interneuronopathy responsible for the sex-dimorphic cognitive impairment induced by prenatal THC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / administration & dosage*
  • Dronabinol / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / drug effects*
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Interneurons / drug effects*
  • Interneurons / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / pathology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / genetics
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Spatial Memory / drug effects*
  • Spatial Memory / physiology


  • CNR1 protein, mouse
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Dronabinol