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Investigations into the potential for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine to induce neurotoxic terminal damage to serotonergic neurons

Dominik Biezonski, University of Massachusetts Amherst


High doses of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA; "Ecstasy") are known to reduce levels of various serotonergic markers outside of the raphe nuclei. To test the hypothesis that these deficits reflect a degeneration of distal axons/terminals, we investigated the effects of an MDMA binge (10mg/kg x 4) on the relative protein and genetic expression of several serotonergic markers in rats, as well as the effects of this compound on the quantity of serotonergic terminals in these animals. In experiment I, we examined whether MDMA alters serotonin transporter (SERT) levels as determined by lysate binding and immunoblotting analyses. Both methods of analysis revealed MDMA-induced reductions in regional SERT content. Experiment II investigated MDMA-induced changes in terminal-specific levels of SERT and the vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT-2) in the hippocampus, a region with sparse dopaminergic innervation, after lesioning noradrenergic input with N-(2-chloroethyl)-N-ethyl-2-bromobenzylamine (DSP-4). Animals were administered 100 mg/kg DSP-4 or saline 1 week prior to MDMA (or saline). As determined by immunoblotting of synaptosomal tissue, the DSP-4/MDMA group showed little change in hippocampal VMAT-2 protein expression compared to DSP-4/Saline controls, despite large reductions in SERT levels in all regions examined in the MDMA-treated animals. Experiment III examined whether MDMA alters genetic expression of SERT and VMAT-2. When compared to saline-treated controls, animals given MDMA showed a striking decrease in SERT gene expression (and a lesser effect on VMAT-2) in dorsal/median raphe as assessed by quantitative RT-PCR. Experiment IV(a) investigated the effects of MDMA on gene and protein expression of tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH) in the hippocampus. Levels of TPH protein were unchanged between treatment groups, while transcript levels were decreased 15-fold in the dorsal/median raphe. In experiment IV(b), flow cytometry was used to measure whether MDMA alters the quantity of serotonergic terminals in the hippocampus. MDMA-treated animals showed an increase in the number of serotonergic synaptosomes identified by co-labeling for synaptosome-associated protein of 25 kDa (SNAP-25) and TPH. These results demonstrate that MDMA causes substantial regulatory changes in the expression of serotonergic markers with no evidence for synaptic loss, questioning the need to invoke distal axotomy as an explanation of MDMA-related serotonergic deficits. Keywords: MDMA, neurotoxicity, neurodegeneration, serotonin transporter, vesicular monoamine transporter 2, tryptophan hydroxylase, serotonin, immunoblotting, gene expression, flow cytometry.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Biezonski, Dominik, "Investigations into the potential for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine to induce neurotoxic terminal damage to serotonergic neurons" (2009). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3379938.