Perinatal exposure to Δ 9-tetrahydrocannabinol triggers profound defects in T cell differentiation and function in fetal and postnatal stages of life, including decreased responsiveness to HIV antigens

Catherine Lombard, Venkatesh L. Hegde, Mitzi Nagarkatti, Prakash S. Nagarkatti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

35 Scopus citations

Abstract

Marijuana abuse is very prominent among pregnant women. Although marijuana cannabinoids have been shown to exert immunosuppression in adults, virtually nothing is known about the effects of marijuana use during pregnancy on the developing immune system of the fetus and during postnatal life. We noted that murine fetal thymus expressed high levels of the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. Moreover, perinatal exposure to Δ 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) had a profound effect on the fetus as evidenced by a decrease in thymic cellularity on gestational days 16, 17, and 18 and postgestational day 1 and marked alterations in T cell subpopulations. These outcomes were reversed by CB1/CB2 antagonists, suggesting that THC-mediated these effects through cannabinoid receptors. Thymic atrophy induced in the fetus correlated with caspase-dependent apoptosis in thymocytes. Thymic atrophy was the result of direct action of THC and not based on maternal factors inasmuch as THC was able to induce T cell apoptosis in vitro in fetal thymic organ cultures. It is noteworthy that perinatal exposure to THC also had a profound effect on the immune response during postnatal life. Peripheral T cells from such mice showed decreased proliferative response to T cell mitogen as well as both T cell and antibody response to HIV-1 p17/p24/gp120 antigens. Together, our data demonstrate for the first time that perinatal exposure to THC triggers profound T cell dysfunction, thereby suggesting that the offspring of marijuana abusers who have been exposed to THC in utero may be at a higher risk of exhibiting immune dysfunction and contracting infectious diseases including HIV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)607-617
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Volume339
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology

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