Dissociation of the neurochemical and behavioral toxicology of MDMA ('Ecstasy') by citalopram

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2008 Apr;33(5):1192-205. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1301491. Epub 2007 Jul 4.


High or repeated doses of the recreational drug 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, or 'Ecstasy') produce long-lasting deficits in several markers of serotonin (5-HT) system integrity and also alter behavioral function. However, it is not yet clear whether MDMA-induced serotonergic neurotoxicity is responsible for these behavioral changes or whether other mechanisms are involved. The present experiment tested the hypothesis that blocking serotonergic neurotoxicity by pretreatment with the selective 5-HT reuptake inhibitor citalopram will also prevent the behavioral and physiological consequences of an MDMA binge administration. Male, Sprague-Dawley rats (N=67) received MDMA (4 x 10 mg/kg) with or without citalopram (10 mg/kg) pretreatment. Core temperature, ejaculatory response, and body weight were monitored during and immediately following drug treatments. A battery of tests assessing motor, cognitive, exploratory, anxiety, and social behaviors was completed during a 10-week period following MDMA administration. Brain tissue was collected at 1 and 10 weeks after drug treatments for measurement of regional 5-HT transporter binding and (for the 1-week samples) 5-HT and 5-HIAA concentrations. Citalopram pretreatment blocked MDMA-related reductions in aggressive and exploratory behavior measured in the social interaction and hole-board tests respectively. Such pretreatment also had the expected protective effect against MDMA-induced 5-HT neurotoxicity at 1 week following the binge. In contrast, citalopram did not prevent most of the acute effects of MDMA (eg hyperthermia and weight loss), nor did it block the decreased motor activity seen in the binge-treated animals 1 day after dosing. These results suggest that some of the behavioral and physiological consequences of a high-dose MDMA regimen in rats are mediated by mechanisms other than the drug's effects on the serotonergic system. Elucidation of these mechanisms requires further study of the influence of MDMA on other neurotransmitter systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Body Temperature / drug effects
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Brain Chemistry / drug effects*
  • Citalopram / therapeutic use*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Ejaculation / drug effects
  • Exploratory Behavior / drug effects
  • Hallucinogens / toxicity
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / toxicity
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / drug therapy*
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / etiology*
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / metabolism
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Recognition, Psychology / drug effects
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Time Factors


  • Hallucinogens
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Citalopram
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine