Behavioral and neurochemical effects of chronic methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) treatment in rhesus monkeys

Neurotoxicol Teratol. Sep-Oct 1995;17(5):531-43. doi: 10.1016/0892-0362(95)00013-h.


Effects of chronic treatment with the putative serotonergic neurotoxicant MDMA were assessed in rhesus macaques using behavior in an operant test battery (OTB) designed to model aspects of time estimation, short-term memory, motivation, learning, and color and position discrimination. After an initial acute dose-response assessment, escalating doses of MDMA (0.10-20.0 mg/kg, im, twice daily, for 14 consecutive days at each dose) were administered, followed by three additional acute dose-response assessments. In general, tolerance to MDMA's acute effects was evident in all OTB tasks by the second week of repeated exposure to each individual MDMA dose and as doses escalated. Baseline OTB performance after chronic treatment was not significantly altered. Residual behavioral tolerance to MDMA's acute effects, however, was evident in all OTB tasks but was least pronounced in the motivation task. Monkeys were sacrificed (21 months after chronic treatment) and brains were dissected into several regions for neurochemical analyses. Serotonin (5-HT), 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA), dopamine (DA), 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC), and homovanillic acid (HVA) were analyzed via HPLC. Although MDMA-treated monkeys tended to have lower 5-HT concentrations in the frontal cortex, chronic MDMA treatment had no significant effects on 5-HT concentrations in any brain area sampled. Hippocampal 5-HIAA concentration, 5-HT uptake sites, and turnover of 5-HT of MDMA-treated monkeys were significantly lower than control values. DA concentrations in the CN of MDMA-treated monkeys were significantly greater than control values. No significant effects on DA concentrations were noted in any other brain area sampled. The absence of significant decreases in 5-HT and the general increase in DA concentrations are dissimilar to neurochemical effects reported after a short course of MDMA treatment at relatively high doses. These data suggest that chronic administration of gradually increasing doses of MDMA results in long-lasting tolerance to the drugs acute effects on the complex brain functions modeled in the OTB. It is uncertain, however, if such tolerance is related to the observed decreases in uptake sites and turnover of 5-HT in the hippocampus of these monkeys.

MeSH terms

  • 3,4-Dihydroxyphenylacetic Acid / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Biogenic Monoamines / metabolism
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Tolerance
  • Homovanillic Acid / metabolism
  • Hydroxyindoleacetic Acid / metabolism
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / pharmacology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects*
  • Reinforcement Schedule
  • Serotonin Agents / pharmacology*
  • Time Factors


  • Biogenic Monoamines
  • Serotonin Agents
  • 3,4-Dihydroxyphenylacetic Acid
  • Hydroxyindoleacetic Acid
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine
  • Homovanillic Acid