Adolescent Cannabinoid Exposure Induces a Persistent Sub-Cortical Hyper-Dopaminergic State and Associated Molecular Adaptations in the Prefrontal Cortex

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Abstract

Considerable evidence suggests that adolescent exposure to delta-9-tetrahydrocanabinol (THC), the psychoactive component in marijuana, increases the risk of developing schizophrenia-related symptoms in early adulthood. In the present study, we used a combination of behavioral and molecular analyses with in vivo neuronal electrophysiology to compare the long-term effects of adolescent versus adulthood THC exposure in rats. We report that adolescent, but not adult, THC exposure induces long-term neuropsychiatric-like phenotypes similar to those observed in clinical populations. Thus, adolescent THC exposure induced behavioral abnormalities resembling positive and negative schizophrenia-related endophenotypes and a state of neuronal hyperactivity in the mesocorticolimbic dopamine (DA) pathway. Furthermore, we observed profound alterations in several prefrontal cortical molecular pathways consistent with sub-cortical DAergic dysregulation. Our findings demonstrate a profound dissociation in relative risk profiles for adolescent versus adulthood exposure to THC in terms of neuronal, behavioral, and molecular markers resembling neuropsychiatric pathology.

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