Increased anxiety 3 months after brief exposure to MDMA ('Ecstasy') in rats: Association with altered 5-HT transporter and receptor density

Iain S. McGregor, Kelly J. Clemens, Geoffrey Van Der Plasse, Kong M. Li, Glenn E. Hunt, Feng Chen, Andrew J. Lawrence

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    94 Citations (Scopus)


    Male Wistar rats were treated with 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, 'Ecstasy') using either a high dose (4 x 5 mg/kg over 4 h) or low dose (1 x 5 mg/kg over 4 h) regimen on each of 2 consecutive days. After 10 weeks, rats were tested in the social interaction and emergence tests of anxiety. Rats previously given either of the MDMA dose regimens were significantly more anxious on both tests. After behavioral testing, and 3 months after the MDMA treatment, the rats were killed and their brains examined. Rats given the high-, but not the low-, dose MDMA treatment regimen exhibited significant loss of 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) and 5-HIAA in the amygdala, hippocampus, striatum, and cortex. Quantitative autoradiography showed loss of SERT binding in cortical, hippocampal, thalamic, and hypothalamic sites with the high-dose MDMA regime, while low-dose MDMA only produced significant loss in the medial hypothalamus. Neither high- nor low-dose MDMA affected 5HT1A receptor density. High-dose MDMA increased 5HT1B receptor density in the nucleus accumbens and lateral septum but decreased binding in the globus pallidus, insular cortex and medial thalamus. Low-dose MDMA decreased 5HT 1B receptor density in the hippocampus, globus pallidus, and medial thalamus. High-dose MDMA caused dramatic decreases in cortical, striatal, thalamic, and hypothalamic 5HT2A/2C receptor density, while low-dose MDMA tended to produce similar effects but only significantly in the piriform cortex. These data suggest that even brief, relatively low-dose MDMA exposure can produce significant, long-term changes in 5-HT receptor and transporter function and associated emotional behavior. Interestingly, long-term 5-HT depletion may not be necessary to produce lasting effects on anxiety-like behavior after low-dose MDMA.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1472-1484
    Number of pages13
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2003


    • 5-HT
    • Anxiety
    • Autoradiography
    • Ecstasy
    • MDMA
    • Serotonin


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