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

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2003 Aug;28(8):1472-84. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1300185. Epub 2003 Apr 16.


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 5HT(1A) receptor density. High-dose MDMA increased 5HT(1B) 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 5HT(2A)/(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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / chemically induced*
  • Anxiety / metabolism*
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism*
  • Membrane Transport Proteins*
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / administration & dosage*
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / toxicity
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins*
  • Protein Binding / drug effects
  • Protein Binding / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Time Factors


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Slc6a4 protein, rat
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine