Development of a mouse model to study the effects of adolescent vaping of Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

Allison working in a lab.


COL 2021


Associate Professor of Neuroscience in Psychiatry

Project Summary

My project looks at the effect of Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) e-cigarette vapor on the adolescent brain. THC is the main psychoactive part of Cannabis, which in lay terms, means it’s the part that leads to the “high” reported by users. According to the CDC, Cannabis is the most frequently used illegal drug in the world and the most commonly abused drug in the US, with especially high rates of use among teens and young adults. Despite these facts, researchers have had trouble mimicking the rewarding effects of THC in animal models. Our goal was to establish a mouse model that would mimic the human experience and expose adolescent mice to THC through e-cigarette vapor.

One of the first steps to the project, and one of the main goals for this summer, was to validate our THC vapor delivery system at two doses: 100 and 200 mg/mL THC. This was done in a few ways, including testing body temperature, locomotion, and THC levels in serum. We found that compared to control mice, mice vaped at both doses showed a decrease in body temperature after exposure. Expectantly, we found a decrease in locomotion, or movement, after an exposure at 200 mg/mL THC but an increase in locomotion after an exposure to 100 mg/mL THC as compared to control mice. Another way we validated THC delivery was by collecting blood and using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to measure THC concentrations in the serum after an exposure. These methods showed that our method of exposing mice to vapor gave appreciable THC delivery to the mice.

Another aspect of the project is to see if mice exposed to THC develop differences in reward areas of the brain, such as the Nucleus Accumbens and the Pre-Frontal Cortex. This summer, I helped collect tissue from these brain regions. In the coming weeks we plan to measure difference in gene expression in mice exposed to THC versus control mice.

Participating in this research has greatly contributed to my educational experience in neuroscience. Not only did I have the ability to apply concepts I have learned in my courses, but I got to learn what kinds of questions are asked in the field of neuroscience and how to go about finding answers. Taking part in this project has helped me practice problem solving, learn how to search for and analyze literature, and gain wider understanding of how projects develop over a of time.