3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, serotonin and memory

G. A. Ricaurte, A. L. Markowska, G. L. Wenk, G. Hatzidimitriou, J. Wlos, D. S. Olton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


The recreational drug (±)-3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, 'Ecstasy') is toxic to central serotonin (5-HT) neurons, but few long-term functional consequences of MDMA neurotoxicity have been identified. Because 5-HT has been implicated in learning and memory, the present study was undertaken to examine whether MDMA, by damaging 5-HT neurons, altered mnemonic function on a long-term basis. Rats were treated with saline, MDMA or 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine/desmethylimipramine. The latter treatment group was included to assess the effects of larger 5-HT neuronal lesions than are possible with MDMA. Four weeks after drug treatment, memory was assessed in three different variations of spatial alternation in a T-maze: acquisition with a constant and short delay interval, performance with variable delays and treatment with scopolamine. Upon completion of the behavioral studies, the neurotoxic effects of the drugs were assessed chemically and anatomically. MDMA, which produced a substantial and selective reduction of brain 5-HT, had no effect on choice accuracy. 5,7- dihydroxytryptamine/desmethylimipramine which produced a near-total reduction of 5-HT and a modest reduction of norepinephrine, impaired choice accuracy in all three variations of the task. These data suggest that selective damage to the 5-HT system, like that produced by MDMA, is not sufficient to impair memory, but that combined damage to the 5-HT and norepinephrine systems can disrupt performance in tasks that require recent memory. Because Alzheimer's disease involves impairments in acetylcholine, 5-HT and norepinephrine systems, animals with combined lesions may provide a useful model to study the mnemonic dysfunctions characteristic of this disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1097-1105
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


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