The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a complex role in the development of neural circuitry during fetal brain development. The cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) controls synaptic strength at both excitatory and inhibitory synapses and thus contributes to the balance of excitatory and inhibitory signaling. Imbalances in the ratio of excitatory to inhibitory synapses have been implicated in various neuropsychiatric disorders associated with dysregulated central nervous system development including autism spectrum disorder, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. The role of CB1 in human brain development has been difficult to study but advances in induced pluripotent stem cell technology have allowed us to model the fetal brain environment. Cortical spheroids resemble the cortex of the dorsal telencephalon during mid-fetal gestation and possess functional synapses, spontaneous activity, an astrocyte population, and pseudo-laminar organization. We first characterized the ECS using STORM microscopy and observed synaptic localization of components similar to that which is observed in the fetal brain. Next, using the CB1-selective antagonist SR141716A, we observed an increase in excitatory, and to a lesser extent, inhibitory synaptogenesis as measured by confocal image analysis.
Fig: ECS constituents are expressed in 90-day old cortical spheroids. CB1, MAGL, DAGLα, and FAAH have increased transcription in cortical spheroids derived from patients with the neurodevelopmental disorder ASD.
Further, CB1 antagonism increased the variability of spontaneous activity within developing neural networks, as measured by microelectrode array. Overall, we have established that cortical spheroids express ECS components and are thus a useful model for exploring endocannabinoid mediation of childhood neuropsychiatric disease.
Papariello, A., Taylor, D., Soderstrom, K. et al. CB1 antagonism increases excitatory synaptogenesis in a cortical spheroid model of fetal brain development. Sci Rep 11, 9356 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-88750-2