Hum Reprod. 2021 May 5:deab104. doi: 10.1093/humrep/deab104. Online ahead of print.
STUDY QUESTION: Do phytocannabinoids (PCs) affect follicular endocannabinoid signalling and the epigenome in the surrounding granulosa cells (GCs)?
SUMMARY ANSWER: Exposure to PCs increases the expression of endocannabinoid receptors and reduces DNA methylation enzyme expression and global DNA methylation in naïve GCs.
WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Cannabis plant derivatives, known as PCs, are used for medicinal and recreational purposes. The main PC, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is the third most commonly used substance by women of childbearing age, hence knowledge of the effect it has on reproduction is of utmost importance. THC exerts its effects via receptors of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and can interfere with folliculogenesis, oocyte development and ovulation. Endocannabinoids have been measured in follicular fluid (FF) obtained during oocyte retrieval and are implicated in controlling folliculogenesis. It has been established that in the placenta, PCs disrupt endocannabinoid homeostasis via impairment of the synthetic and degrading enzymes, leading to a net increase of endocannabinoid levels. Finally, previous studies have shown that THC alters methylation and histone modifications in sperm, brain and blood cells.
STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: This study included an in vivo cohort assessment of cannabis exposure and its effects on the follicle and in vitro assays conducted to validate the in vivo findings and to explore possible mechanisms of action.
PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: A total of 318 FF samples, from 261 patients undergoing IVF treatment at a private fertility clinic who consented for biobanking biological waste material between January 2018 and July 2019, were included in this study. Concentrations of PCs and endocannabinoids were assessed in FF by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). Exposure to PCs was determined based on these measured levels. Levels of both endocannabinoid receptors (CB1R, CB2R) and the de novo DNA methylating enzyme, DNMT3b, in GCs were assessed by flow cytometry both in vitro and in vivo and global DNA methylation was assessed in vitro by ELISA. In vivo effects were assessed by comparing samples positive for at least one PC, with samples negative for all measured PCs. In vitro effects were determined in naive GCs, obtained concurrently with FF samples that had tested negative for all PCs. These GCs were treated with different combinations of the main three PCs.
MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Overall, 17 patients (6.4%) were positive for cannabis consumption. Furthermore, the prevalence of cannabis positivity in the FF increased from 4% of the tested samples that were collected prior to national legalisation in October 2018 to 12% of those collected following legalisation. Of note, 59% of patients who tested positive for PCs (10 of 17) reported previous or ongoing exposure to cannabis upon their initial intake. Endocannabinoid levels were not affected by the presence of PCs. CB2R was more prevalent than CB1R in GCs and its expression increased following acute and chronic in vitro exposure to PCs. The expression of DNMT3b and global methylation decreased following exposure, suggesting that cannabis may affect the epigenome in the follicular niche. The acute changes were sustained throughout chronic treatment.
LARGE SCALE DATA: N/A.
LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Our study is limited by lack of details regarding mode, frequency and timing of PC consumption. Moreover, we were not able to adequately assess the effect of PCs on immediate or long-term clinical outcomes, due to the small sample size and the lack of follow up. Future, large-scale studies should focus on assess the clinical implications of cannabis exposure, validate our findings, and determine to what extent cannabis affects the epigenome ovarian follicle and the developing oocyte.
WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: To our knowledge, this is the first study measuring PCs in FF by LC-MS/MS. We show that consuming cannabis alters the ECS in the developing follicle, and directly affects DNMT expression and global DNA methylation levels. Cannabis legalisation and use is increasing worldwide, therefore further understanding its role in female fertility and folliculogenesis is critical.
STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): All funding was provided by CReATe Fertility Centre through the reinvestment of clinical earnings. The authors declare no competing interests.
Source: ncbi 2