Sex-specific susceptibility to psychotic-like states provoked by prenatal THC exposure: Reversal by pregnenolone


Sociocultural attitudes towards cannabis legalization contribute to the common misconception that it is a relatively safe drug and its use during pregnancy poses no risk to the fetus. However, longitudinal studies demonstrate that maternal cannabis exposure results in adverse outcomes in the offspring, with a heightened risk for developing psychopathology. One of the most reported psychiatric outcomes is the proneness to psychotic-like experiences during childhood. How exposure to cannabis during gestation increases psychosis susceptibility in children and adolescents remains elusive. Preclinical research has indicated that in utero exposure to the major psychoactive component of cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), deranges brain developmental trajectories towards vulnerable psychotic-like endophenotypes later in life. Here, we present how prenatal THC exposure (PCE) deregulates mesolimbic dopamine development predisposing the offspring to schizophrenia-relevant phenotypes, exclusively when exposed to environmental challenges, such as stress or THC. Detrimental effects of PCE are sex-specific because female offspring do not display psychotic-like outcomes upon exposure to these challenges. Moreover, we present how pregnenolone, a neurosteroid that showed beneficial properties on the effects elicited by cannabis intoxication, normalizes mesolimbic dopamine function and rescues psychotic-like phenotypes. We, therefore, suggest this neurosteroid as a safe “disease-modifying” aid to prevent the onset of psychoses in vulnerable individuals. Our findings corroborate clinical evidence and highlight the relevance of early diagnostic screening and preventative strategies for young individuals at risk for mental diseases, such as male PCE offspring.