Background: Use of cannabidiol (CBD), the primary non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis, has recently risen dramatically, while relatively little is known about the underlying molecular mechanisms of its effects. Previous work indicates that direct CBD exposure strongly impacts the brain, with anxiolytic, antidepressant, antipsychotic, and other effects being observed in animal and human studies. The epigenome, particularly DNA methylation, is responsive to environmental input and can direct persistent patterns of gene regulation impacting phenotype. Epigenetic perturbation is particularly impactful during embryogenesis, when exogenous exposures can disrupt critical resetting of epigenetic marks and impart phenotypic effects lasting into adulthood. The impact of prenatal CBD exposure has not been evaluated; however, studies using the psychomimetic cannabinoid Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have identified detrimental effects on psychological outcomes in developmentally exposed adult offspring. We hypothesized that developmental CBD exposure would have similar negative effects on behavior mediated in part by the epigenome. Nulliparous female wild-type Agouti viable yellow (Avy) mice were exposed to 20 mg/kg CBD or vehicle daily from two weeks prior to mating through gestation and lactation. Coat color shifts, a readout of DNA methylation at the Agouti locus in this strain, were measured in F1 Avy/a offspring. Young adult F1 a/a offspring were then subjected to tests of working spatial memory and anxiety/compulsive behavior. Reduced-representation bisulfite sequencing was performed on both F0 and F1 cerebral cortex and F1 hippocampus to identify genome-wide changes in DNA methylation for direct and developmental exposure, respectively.
Results: F1 offspring exposed to CBD during development exhibited increased anxiety and improved memory behavior in a sex-specific manner. Further, while no significant coat color shift was observed in Avy/a offspring, thousands of differentially methylated loci (DMLs) were identified in both brain regions with functional enrichment for neurogenesis, substance use phenotypes, and other psychologically relevant terms.
Conclusions: These findings demonstrate for the first time that despite positive effects of direct exposure, developmental CBD is associated with mixed behavioral outcomes and perturbation of the brain epigenome.
Keywords: Addiction; Anxiety; Cannabis; DOHaD; Epigenetics; Memory; Prenatal.