Paternal THC exposure in rats causes long-lasting neurobehavioral effects in the offspring.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Developmental neurotoxicity of a wide variety of toxicants mediated via maternal exposure during gestation is very well established. In contrast, the impacts of paternal toxicant exposure on offspring neurobehavioral function are much less well studied. A vector for paternal toxicant exposure on development of his offspring has been identified. Sperm DNA can be imprinted by chemical exposures of the father. Most but not all of the epigenetic marks in sperm are reprogrammed after fertilization. The persisting epigenetic marks can lead to abnormal genetic expression in the offspring. We have found that paternal delta-9-tetrohydrocannabinol (THC) exposure in rats causes changes in methylation of sperm (Murphy et al., 2018). This is similar to cannabis-associated changes in sperm DNA methylation we found in human males who smoke cannabis (Murphy et al., 2018). In the current study we investigated the intergeneration effects of THC exposure of young adult male rats (0 or 2 mg/kg/day orally for 12 days) to the neurobehavioral development of their offspring. This paternal THC exposure was not found to significantly impact the clinical health of the offspring, including litter size, sex ratio, pup birth weight, survival and growth. However, it did cause a long-lasting significant impairment in attentional performance in the offspring relative to controls when they were tested in adulthood. There was also a significant increase in habituation of locomotor activity in the adult offspring of the males exposed to THC prior to mating. This study shows that premating paternal THC exposure even at a modest dose for a brief period can cause deleterious long-term behavioral effects in the offspring, notably significant impairment in an operant attention task. Further research should be conducted to determine the degree to which this type of risk is seen in humans and to investigate the mechanisms underlying these effects and possible treatments to ameliorate these long-term adverse behavioral consequences of paternal THC exposure.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Levin, ED; Hawkey, AB; Hall, BJ; Cauley, M; Slade, S; Yazdani, E; Kenou, B; White, H; Wells, C; Rezvani, AH; Murphy, SK

Published Date

  • 2019

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 74 /

Start / End Page

  • 106806 -

PubMed ID

  • 31028824

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1872-9738

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States