Cannabidiol Exposure During Rat Pregnancy Leads to Labyrinth-Specific Vascular Defects in the Placenta and Reduced Fetal Growth

Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2024 Feb 16. doi: 10.1089/can.2023.0166. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Cannabis use is increasing among pregnant people, and cannabidiol (CBD), a constituent of cannabis, is often perceived as "natural" and "safe" as it is non-intoxicating. In utero, cannabis exposure is associated with negative health outcomes, including fetal growth restriction (FGR). The placenta supplies oxygen and nutrients to the fetus, and alterations in placental development can lead to FGR. While there has been some investigation into the effects of Δ9-THC, there has been limited investigation into the impacts of in utero gestational CBD exposure on the placenta. Methods: This study used histological and transcriptomic analysis of embryonic day (E)19.5 rat placentas from vehicle and CBD (3 mg/kg intraperitoneal injection) exposed pregnancies (E6.5-18.5). Results: The study revealed that pups from CBD-exposed pregnancies were 10% smaller, with the placentae displaying a decreased fetal blood space perimeter-to-area ratio. The transcriptomic analysis supported compromised angiogenesis and blood vessel formation with downregulated biological processes, including tube morphogenesis, angiogenesis, blood vessel morphogenesis, blood vessel development and vasculature development. Further, the CBD-exposed placentas displayed changed expression of glucose transporters (decreased GLUT1 and GR expression and increased GLUT3 expression). Transcriptomic analysis further revealed upregulated biological processes associated with metabolism. Finally, histological and transcriptomic analysis revealed altered cell populations within the placenta, specifically to syncytiotrophoblast layer II and endothelial cells. Conclusion: Together these results suggest that the structural changes in CDB-exposed placentae, including the altered expression of nutrient transporters and the changes to the placental fetal vasculature, may underlie the reduced fetal growth.

Keywords: cannabidiol; fetal growth restriction; glucose transporter 1; labyrinth zone; pregnancy.