CBD modulates DNA methylation in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus of mice exposed to forced swim

Behav Brain Res. 2020 Jun 18;388:112627. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2020.112627. Epub 2020 Apr 26.


Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychotomimetic component of Cannabis sativa plant, shows therapeutic potential in psychiatric disorders, including depression. The molecular mechanisms underlying the antidepressant-like effects of CBD are not yet understood. Previous studies in differentiated skin cells demonstrated that CBD regulates DNA methylation, an overall repressive epigenetic mechanism. Both stress exposure and antidepressant treatment can modulate DNA methylation in the brain, and lead to gene expression changes associated with depression neurobiology. We investigated herein if the antidepressant effect of CBD could be associated with changes in DNA methylation in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and hippocampus (HPC) of mice submitted to the forced swimming test (FST). Therefore, we assessed: i) the behavioral effects induced by CBD and DNA methylation inhibitors (DNMTi: 5-AzaD and RG108), alone or in association; ii) the effects induced by CBD and DNMTi in global DNA methylation and DNMT activity, in PFC and HPC. Results showed that treatment with CBD (10 mg/kg), 5-AzaD and RG108 (0.2 mg/kg) induced an antidepressant-like effect in the FST. Similar effects were observed after the combination of sub-effective doses of CBD (7 mg/kg) and 5-AzaD or CBD (7 mg/kg) and RG108 (0.1 mg/kg). Also, stress reduced DNA methylation and DNMT activity in the HPC and increased it in the PFC. CBD and DNMTi treatment prevented these changes in both brain structures. Altogether, our results indicate that CBD regulates DNA methylation in brain regions relevant for depression neurobiology, suggesting that this mechanism could be related to CBD-induced antidepressant effects.

Keywords: Cannabidiol; DNA methylation; DNMT inhibitor; forced swimming test; stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Cannabidiol / administration & dosage*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Depression / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / drug effects*
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Cannabidiol