Scientists say marijuana-like compounds called endocannabinoids alter genes and biological signals critical to the formation of a normal placenta and may contribute to preeclampsia. The study, that shows endocannabinoid lipid molecules produced by the body disrupt the movement of early embryonic cells, appears in The Journal of Biological Chemistry.
The study involved mouse embryos that had not yet implanted inside the uterus of the mother. Previous research has shown the timing of critical events in early pregnancy, including when and how well an embryo implants in the uterus, is vital to a healthy pregnancy and birth.
In the new study, researchers conducted DNA microarray analyses to determine how the expression levels of genes important to healthy embryo development were affected in embryos with abnormal endocannabinoid signaling.
The researchers found the expression of numerous genes known to be important to cell movement and embryo development was lower in mice treated with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active psychotropic agent in cannabis. This included the development and migration of trophoblast stem cells. Trophoblast cells help anchor the conceptus with the uterus and also form much of the placenta, critical to establishment of maternal-fetal circulation and exchange of nutrients.
"The findings or our investigation raise concerns that exposure to cannabis products may adversely affect early embryo development that is then perpetuated later in pregnancy," said lead researcher Sudhansu K. Dey, of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "Also, given that endocannabinoid signaling plays a key role in the central nervous system, it would be interesting in future studies to examine whether affected cell migration-related genes in early embryos also participate in neuronal cell migration during brain development."
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Source: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center