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How marijuana is associated with autism

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Male use of marijuana may be associated with an increased risk of autism in their children. To such conclusions scientists from the American University of Duke, published a study in the journal Epigenetics.

It turned out that shortly after drug use, certain sperm genes undergo changes that can later be transmitted to offspring.

In their article, scientists emphasize that they have not yet established a specific causal relationship between marijuana use and autism in children, but the findings are interesting and require further research.

“This is the first study to demonstrate the relationship between marijuana use by men and genetic changes in semen that are associated with autism,” said publication co-author Susan Murphy of Duke University School of Medicine.

Murphy and her colleagues conducted experiments on humans and animals to analyze changes in test sperm, comparing it with samples from control groups not exposed to the drug. In a previous work published in December 2018, Murphy et al. Pointed out changes in a number of genes in men who used marijuana.

In their new study, scientists focused on specific genes, including Discs-Large Associated Protein 2 (DLGAP2). This gene is involved in synaptic remodeling processes and in signal transmission by neurons, it is one of the genes

whose mutations are associated with autism, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We found a significant level of hypomethylation (DNA change without changing the nucleotide sequence) of the DLGAP2 gene in the spermatozoa of men using marijuana compared to the control group, the same thing we found in rats exposed to tetrahydrocannabinol,” explained Rose Schrott, author of the work. “A state of hypomethylation was also found in the forebrain of rats born to fathers susceptible to tetrahydrocannabinol, which proves the possibility of inheritance of altered DNA between generations.”

Scientists have also discovered gender differences in the mechanisms of the functioning of methylated genes in brain cells. In both women and men, increased DNA methylation is associated with decreased gene activity. However, in women this dependence is more pronounced, although the reasons for this have yet to be clarified in the future.

According to scientists, this observation is important, given that the ratio of boys and girls born with autism is approximately 4: 1 and there are gender differences in the symptoms of the disease. “Perhaps the relationship between methylation and gene expression changes if changes in methylation are inherited by offspring. In any case, it is obvious that the DNA region inside the DLGAP2 gene, which changes when smoking marijuana, is functionally important for the brain,” Murphy explained.

According to scientists, so far the sample was too small to draw far-reaching conclusions – only 24 people took part in the study, half of which used marijuana, half not. Therefore, scientists could not exclude the influence of other factors, such as the diets of the subjects, their sleep and rest, and others. According to the researchers, work in this direction should be continued amid the legalization of marijuana in the USA and the growing interest in the problem of autism in the world.

“Given the growing prevalence of marijuana in the United States and the increasing number of states that legalize its consumption, we need more research to understand how this drug affects not only its consumers but also their children,” Murphy said.

Previously, scientists proved that alcohol can have a similar effect on genes . Scientists from Rutgers University have found that excessive amounts of alcohol can affect the function of genes associated with alcohol, creating a vicious circle and leading to alcoholism.

Scientists selected 47 volunteers aged 21-50 participating in another, larger study of alcohol-related behavior. They studied the variations of Per2 in their blood samples, and also investigated the mutations of the POMC gene, which is responsible for the production of the pro-hormone (biological hormone precursor) proopiomelanocortin. From it, depending on the place of synthesis and specific stimuli, several types of hormones are formed at once, including those affecting opioid receptors.

As it turned out, the “alcoholic” pictures had little effect – those of the participants who admitted that they had problems with alcohol drank more than others. But the link with the genes was well traced – those who abused alcohol had methylation (DNA changes without changing the nucleotide sequence) of Per2 and POMC, as well as a decrease in their expression. The higher the alcohol consumption, the more pronounced these changes were.

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