Neuropharmacology and Molecular Psychiatry Laboratory, School of Medicine, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia; Centre for Translational Neuroscience, Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia; Molecular Horizons, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia; Australian Centre for Cannabinoid Clinical and Research Excellence, New Lambton Heights, NSW 2305, Australia. Electronic address: [Email]
The mainstay treatment for schizophrenia is antipsychotic drugs (APDs), which are mostly effective against the positive symptoms (e.g. hallucinations), but provide minimal benefits for the negative symptoms (e.g. social withdrawal) and cognitive deficits. We have recently shown that treatment with the non-intoxicating phytocannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), can improve cognition and social interaction deficits in a maternal immune activation (MIA) model relevant to the aetiology of schizophrenia, however, the mechanisms underlying this effect are unknown. An imbalance in the main excitatory (glutamate) and inhibitory (GABA) neurotransmitter systems in the brain plays a role in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. Therefore, the endocannabinoid system could represent a therapeutic target for schizophrenia as a regulator of glutamate and GABA release via the CB1 receptor (CB1R). This study investigated the effects of chronic CBD treatment on markers of glutamatergic, GABAergic and endocannabinoid signalling in brain regions implicated in social behaviour and cognitive function, including the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and hippocampus (HPC). Time-mated pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 16) were administered poly I:C (4 mg/kg, i.v.) or saline (control) on gestational day 15. Male offspring were injected with CBD (10 mg/kg, i.p.) or vehicle twice daily from postnatal day 56 for 3 weeks. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) and hippocampus (HPC) were collected for post-mortem receptor binding and Western blot analyses (n = 8 per group). CBD treatment attenuated poly I:C-induced deficits in cannabinoid CB1 receptor binding in the PFC and glutamate decarboxylase 67, the enzyme that converts glutamate to GABA, in the HPC. CBD treatment increased parvalbumin levels in the HPC, regardless of whether offspring were exposed to poly I:C in utero. Conversely, CBD did not affect N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) A receptor binding or protein levels of fatty acid amide hydrolase, the enzyme that degrades the endocannabinoid, anandamide. Overall, these findings show that CBD can restore cannabinoid/GABAergic signalling deficits in regions of the brain implicated in schizophrenia pathophysiology following maternal poly I:C exposure. These findings provide novel evidence for the potential mechanisms underlying the therapeutic effects of CBD treatment in the poly I:C model.