Sperm DNA methylation alterations from cannabis extract exposure are evident in offspring

Schrott, R., Modliszewski, J.L., Hawkey, A.B. et al. Sperm DNA methylation alterations from cannabis extract exposure are evident in offspring. Epigenetics & Chromatin 15, 33 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13072-022-00466-3



Cannabis legalization is expanding and men are the predominant users. We have limited knowledge about how cannabis impacts sperm and whether the effects are heritable.


Whole genome bisulfite sequencing (WGBS) data were generated for sperm of rats exposed to: (1) cannabis extract (CE) for 28 days, then 56 days of vehicle only (~ one spermatogenic cycle); (2) vehicle for 56 days, then 28 days of CE; or (3) vehicle only. Males were then mated with drug-naïve females to produce F1 offspring from which heart, brain, and sperm tissues underwent analyses. There were 3321 nominally significant differentially methylated CpGs in F0 sperm identified via WGBS with select methylation changes validated via bisulfite pyrosequencing. Significant methylation changes validated in F0 sperm of the exposed males at the gene 2-Phosphoxylose Phosphatase 1 (Pxylp1) were also detectable in their F1 sperm but not in controls. Changes validated in exposed F0 sperm at Metastasis Suppressor 1-Like Protein (Mtss1l) were also present in F1 hippocampal and nucleus accumbens (NAc) of the exposed group compared to controls. For Mtss1l, a significant sex-specific relationship between DNA methylation and gene expression was demonstrated in the F1 NAc. Phenotypically, rats born to CSE-exposed fathers exhibited significant cardiomegaly relative to those born to control fathers.


This is the first characterization of the effect of cannabis exposure on the entirety of the rat sperm methylome. We identified CE-associated methylation changes across the sperm methylome, some of which persisted despite a “washout” period. Select methylation changes validated via bisulfite pyrosequencing, and genes associated with methylation changes were involved in early developmental processes. Preconception CE exposure is associated with detectable changes in offspring DNA methylation that are functionally related to changes in gene expression and cardiomegaly.

These results support that paternal preconception exposure to cannabis can influence offspring outcomes.

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