Sperm capacitation and transcripts levels are altered by in vitro THC exposure


Background:

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary phytocannabinoid responsible for the psychoactive properties of cannabis and is known to interact with the endocannabinoid system, which is functionally present in the male reproductive system. Since cannabis consumption is the highest among reproductive aged males, the current study aimed to further investigate the effects of THC exposure to phenotypical, physiological, and molecular parameters in sperm. Bull sperm of known fertility were used as a translational model for human sperm and subjected to in vitro treatment with physiologically relevant experimental doses of THC. Sperm parameters, capacitation, apoptosis, and transcript levels were evaluated following treatment.


Results:

Motility, morphology, and viability of bovine sperm was unaltered from THC exposure. However, 0.32µM of THC caused an increased proportion of capacitating sperm (p < 0.05) compared to control and vehicle group sperm. Transcriptome analysis revealed that 39 genes were found to be differentially expressed by 0.032µM THC exposure, 196 genes were differentially expressed by 0.32µM THC exposure, and 33 genes were differentially expressed by 3.2µM THC. Secondary analysis reveals pathways involving development, nucleosomes, ribosomes and translation, and cellular metabolism to be significantly enriched.


Conclusion:

Phytocannabinoid exposure to sperm may adversely affect sperm function by stimulating premature capacitation. These findings also show for the first time that spermatozoal transcripts may be altered by THC exposure. These results add to previous research demonstrating the molecular effects of cannabinoids on sperm and warrant further research into the effects of cannabis on male fertility.


Keywords:

Apoptosis; Cannabis; Capacitation; Fertility; Morphology; Motility; Sperm; THC; Transcriptome.

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