The present study was designed to elucidate the consequences of antisense oligonucleotide-mediated knockdown of striatal dopamine reuptake transporters on 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-induced neurotoxicity. Antisense oligonucleotide complementary to the mRNA translational start site of the rat dopamine transporter was delivered by constant (7 days) intranigral infusion with an osmotic minipump. Delivery of the antisense oligonucleotide by this method resulted in a 70% reduction in the density of the dopamine transporter in the ipsilateral striatum, as measured by [(3)H]mazindol binding. The effect of this transporter knockdown on MDMA-induced serotonergic neurotoxicity was then examined. MDMA (2x20 mg/kg, s.c., given 12 h apart) administered to control rats produced hyperthermia following the first dose and led to a 45-50% reduction in striatal serotonin, 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid, and serotonin reuptake transporter density 1 week after the second dose. Conversely, in antisense-, but not missense-treated rats, a significant attenuation of MDMA-induced neurotoxicity was observed only in the ipsilateral striatum. The hyperthermic response elicited by MDMA was not altered by prior administration of antisense. In vivo microdialysis revealed that the antisense treatment attenuated MDMA-induced dopamine release in the ipsilateral striatum. These results suggest that the dopamine transporter plays an essential role in the neurodegeneration induced by MDMA, and provides additional support for the hypothesis that extracellular dopamine is involved in the neurotoxic process, at least in the striatum.