Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit psychoactive drug in both the United States and Europe, meaning that many parents, or potential parents, are using the drug regularly. For that reason, scientists have been trying to identify the potential risks of marijuana exposure for both parents and their offspring.
Research has found that parental cannabis use is potentially associated with adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes in their children. However, understanding how phenotypes are transmitted still remains more of a mystery.
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In a study of 24 men and 15 rats, scientists were able to prove that marijuana has a possible transgenerational effect, as it is linked to widespread DNA methylation changes in human sperm. Specifically the research found that men who had been exposed to marijuana were potentially linked to the passing on of sperm with an autism-associated gene with extra epigenetic marks. This gene is called DLGAP2 – a gene that is also associated with schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The group of Duke scientists, led by Susan Murphy, PhD, report that this research does not establish a definitive link to the autism gene, but that the possible connection gives reason for further studies. Their detailed findings were published in the August journal Epigenetics.
The study states, “we successfully validated the differential methylation present in DLGAP2 for nine CpG sites located in intron seven using quantitative bisulphite pyrosequencing. Adult male rats exposed to THC showed differential DNA methylation at DLGAP2 in sperm, as did the nucleus accumbens of rats whose fathers exposed to THC prior to conception.”
Other recent findings in this area include a sex-based difference in the relationship between DNA methylation and gene expression in human brain tissue in both males and females, proving decreased gene activity associated with increased DNA methylation. Research found that this relationship was less maintained in males than females, which is a notable finding with ratio of boys to girls with autism at 4:1.
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