A study of the neurotoxic effect of MDMA ('ecstasy') on 5-HT neurones in the brains of mothers and neonates following administration of the drug during pregnancy.Br J Pharmacol 1997; 121(4):827-33BJ
1. It is well established that 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or 'ecstasy') is neurotoxic and produces long term degeneration of cerebral 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) nerve terminals in many species. Since MDMA is used extensively as a recreational drug by young people, it is being ingested by many women of child bearing age. We have therefore examined the effect of administering high doses of MDMA to rats during pregnancy on the cerebral content of both the dams and the neonates. 2. MDMA (20 mg kg-1, s.c.) was injected twice daily on days 14-17 of the gestation period. The initial dose produced a marked hyperthermic response in the dam which was progressively attenuated in both peak height and area under the curve following further doses of the drug. The body weight of the dams decreased during the period of treatment. 3. There was a modest decrease in litter size (-20%) of the MDMA-treated dams. 4. The concentration of 5-HT and its metabolite 5-HIAA was decreased by over 65% in the hippocampus and striatum and 40% in the cortex of the dams 1 week after parturition. In contrast, the content of 5-HT and 5-HIAA in the dorsal telencephalon of the pups of the MDMA-treated dams was the same as that seen in tissue from pups born to control animals. 5. Administration of MDMA (40 mg kg-1, s.c.) to adult rats increased thiobarbituric acid reacting substances (TBARS) in cortical tissue 3 h and 6 h later, indicating increased lipid peroxidation. No increase in TBARS was seen in the cortical tissue of 7-10 day neonates injected with this dose of MDMA 3 h or 6 h earlier. 6. The data suggest that exposure to MDMA in utero during the maturation phase does not produce damage to 5-HT nerve terminals in the foetal rat brain, in contrast to the damage seen in the brains of the mothers. This may be due to MDMA being metabolized to free radical producing entities in the adult brain but not in the immature brain or, alternatively, to more effective or more active free radical scavenging mechanisms being present in the immature brain.