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1 in 5 women report cannabis use during pregnancy, with nausea cited as their primary motivation. Studies show that (-)-△9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), the major psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, causes fetal growth restriction, though the mechanisms are not well understood. Given the critical role of the placenta to transfer oxygen and nutrients from mother, to the fetus, any compromise in the development of fetal-placental circulation significantly affects maternal-fetal exchange and thereby, fetal growth. The goal of this study was to examine, in rats, the impact of maternal Δ9-THC exposure on fetal development, neonatal outcomes, and placental development. Dams received a daily intraperitoneal injection (i.p.) of vehicle control or Δ9-THC (3 mg/kg) from embryonic (E)6.5 through 22. Dams were allowed to deliver normally to measure pregnancy and neonatal outcomes, with a subset sacrificed at E19.5 for placenta assessment via immunohistochemistry and qPCR. Gestational Δ9-THC exposure resulted in pups born with symmetrical fetal growth restriction, with catch up growth by post-natal day (PND)21. During pregnancy there were no changes to maternal food intake, maternal weight gain, litter size, or gestational length. E19.5 placentas from Δ9-THC-exposed pregnancies exhibited a phenotype characterized by increased labyrinth area, reduced Epcam expression (marker of labyrinth trophoblast progenitors), altered maternal blood space, decreased fetal capillary area and an increased recruitment of pericytes with greater collagen deposition, when compared to vehicle controls. Further, at E19.5 labyrinth trophoblast had reduced glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1) and glucocorticoid receptor (GR) expression in response to Δ9-THC exposure. In conclusion, maternal exposure to Δ9-THC effectively compromised fetal growth, which may be a result of the adversely affected labyrinth zone development. These findings implicate GLUT1 as a Δ9-THC target and provide a potential mechanism for the fetal growth restriction observed in women who use cannabis during pregnancy.
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