Metabolism and disposition of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine ("ecstasy") in baboons after oral administration: comparison with humans reveals marked differences

J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2011 Jul;338(1):310-7. doi: 10.1124/jpet.111.180612. Epub 2011 Apr 14.


The baboon is potentially an attractive animal for modeling 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) effects in humans. Baboons self-administer MDMA, are susceptible to MDMA neurotoxicity, and are suitable for positron emission tomography, the method most often used to probe for MDMA neurotoxicity in humans. Because pharmacokinetic equivalence is a key feature of a good predictive animal model, we compared the pharmacokinetics of MDMA in baboons and humans. Baboons were trained to orally consume MDMA. Then, pharmacokinetic profiles of MDMA and its major metabolites were determined after various oral MDMA doses using the same analytical method recently used to perform similar studies in humans. Results indicate that MDMA pharmacokinetics after oral ingestion differ markedly between baboons and humans. Baboons had little or no MDMA in their plasma but had high plasma concentrations of 3,4-dihydroxymethamphetamine (HHMA), pointing to much more extensive first-pass metabolism of MDMA in baboons than in humans. Other less prominent differences included less O-methylation of HHMA to 4-hydroxy-3-methoxymethamphetamine, greater N-demethylation of MDMA to 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine, and a shorter half-life of HHMA in the baboon. To our knowledge, this is the first study to characterize MDMA metabolism and disposition in the baboon. Differences in MDMA pharmacokinetics between baboons and humans suggest that the baboon may not be ideal for modeling human MDMA exposure. However, the unusually rapid conversion of MDMA to HHMA in the baboon may render this animal uniquely useful for clarifying the relative role of the parent compound (MDMA) versus metabolites (particularly HHMA) in the biological actions of MDMA.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Male
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / administration & dosage*
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / blood*
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / pharmacokinetics
  • Papio hamadryas / blood*
  • Species Specificity
  • Tissue Distribution / drug effects
  • Tissue Distribution / physiology


  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine