Rationale: A variety of animal models have shown MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) to be a selective 5-HT neurotoxin, though little is known of the long-term behavioural effects of the pathophysiology. The widespread recreational use of MDMA thus raises concerns over the long-term functional sequelae in humans.
Objective: This study was designed to explore both the acute- and post-treatment consequences of a 3-day neurotoxic exposure to MDMA in the rat, using a variety of behavioural paradigms.
Methods: Following training to pretreatment performance criteria, animals were treated twice daily with ascending doses of MDMA (10, 15, 20 mg/kg) over 3 days. Body temperature, locomotor activity, skilled paw-reaching ability and performance of the delayed non-match to place (DNMTP) procedure was assessed daily during this period and on an intermittent schedule over the following 16 days. Finally, post mortem biochemical analyses of [3H] citalopram binding and monoamine levels were performed.
Results: During the MDMA treatment period, an acute 5-HT-like syndrome was observed which showed evidence of tolerance. Once drug treatment ceased the syndrome abated completely. During the post-treatment phase, a selective, delay-dependent, deficit in DNMTP performance developed. Post-mortem analysis confirmed reductions in markers of 5-HT function, in cortex, hippocampus and striatum.
Conclusions: These results confirm that acutely MDMA exposure elicits a classical 5-HT syndrome. In the long-term, exposure results in 5-HT neurotoxicity and a lasting cognitive impairment. These results have significant implications for the prediction that use of MDMA in humans could have deleterious long-term neuropsychological/psychiatric consequences.