Paper in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry
  • Thompson, M. R., Callaghan, P. D., Hunt, G. E. and McGregor, I.S. (2008) Reduced sensitivity to MDMA-induced facilitation of social behaviour in MDMA pre-exposed rats. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, 32, 1013 - 1021.

    The acute effects of the party drug 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, "Ecstasy") in humans include feelings of love, closeness towards other people and an increased acceptance of others views and feelings. Some evidence suggests that regular MDMA users develop a subsensitivity to the positive effects of the drug and escalate their intake of the drug over time as a result. The current study investigated whether brief exposure to relatively high doses of MDMA in rats produces a subsequent attenuation in the ability of MDMA to enhance social interaction. Male Wistar rats were exposed to either MDMA (4 x 5 mg/kg over 4 h) or vehicle on two consecutive days. Twelve weeks later, MDMA pre-exposed rats displayed a significantly shorter period of time spent in social interaction than controls when tested in the drug-free state. MDMA pre-exposed rats also showed a blunted prosocial response to MDMA (2.5 mg/kg) relative to controls. This difference was overcome by increasing the MDMA dose to 5 mg/kg. The 5-HT1A agonist 8-OH-DPAT (250 µg/kg but not 125 µg/kg) increased social interaction and this effect did not differ in MDMA and vehicle pre-exposed rats. HPLC analysis showed a small but significant depletion of prefrontal 5-HT and 5-HIAA in MDMA pre-exposed rats. Prefrontal 5-HIAA concentrations were also reduced in the subset of vehicle and MDMA pre-exposed rats that received additional testing with MDMA. These results indicate that treatment with MDMA not only causes lasting reductions in social interaction in rats but causes an attenuation of the prosocial effects of subsequent MDMA administration. The lack of a differential response to 8-OH-DPAT agrees with other findings that the 5-HT1A receptor system remains functionally intact following MDMA pre-exposure and suggests that other neuroadaptations may underlie the lasting social deficits caused by MDMA.