(Maternal cannabis use is associated with suppression of immune gene networks in placenta and increased anxiety phenotypes in offspring)
PNAS November 23,2021; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2106115118
Significance: Cannabis use is becoming more prevalent, including during developmentally sensitive periods such as pregnancy. Here we find that maternal cannabis use is associated with increased cortisol, anxiety, aggression, and hyperactivity in young children. This corresponded with widespread reductions in immune-related gene expression in the placenta which correlated with anxiety and hyperactivity. Future studies are needed to examine the effects of cannabis on immune function during pregnancy as a potential regulatory mechanism shaping neurobehavioral development.
Abstract: While cannabis is among the most used recreational drugs during pregnancy, the impact of maternal cannabis use (mCB) on fetal and child development remains unclear. Here, we assessed the effects of mCB on psychosocial and physiological measures in young children along with the potential relevance of the in utero environment reflected in the placental transcriptome. Children (∼3 to 6 y) were assessed for hair hormone levels, neurobehavioral traits on the Behavioral Assessment System for Children (BASC-2) survey, and heart rate variability (HRV) at rest and during auditory startle. For a subset of children with behavioral assessments, placental specimens collected at birth were processed for RNA sequencing. Hair hormone analysis revealed increased cortisol levels in mCB children. In addition, mCB was associated with greater anxiety, aggression, and hyperactivity. Children with mCB also showed a reduction in the high-frequency component of HRV at baseline, reflecting reduced vagal tone. In the placenta, there was reduced expression of many genes involved in immune system function including type I interferon, neutrophil, and cytokine-signaling pathways. Finally, several of these mCB-linked immune genes organized into coexpression networks that correlated with child anxiety and hyperactivity. Overall, our findings reveal a relationship between mCB and immune response gene networks in the placenta as a potential mediator of risk for anxiety-related problems in early childhood.