Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (5.48 MB)

Effect of repeated MDMA exposure on rat brain and behaviour

Download (5.48 MB)
posted on 2021-12-08, 22:48 authored by Ross van de WeteringRoss van de Wetering

Rationale. ±3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA; ‘ecstasy’) is a popular recreational drug of abuse. Like other drugs of abuse, a proportion of users develop symptoms that are characteristic of a Substance Use Disorder (SUD). The behavioural and neurobiological consequences of repeated misuse of MDMA are not well understood, however.  Objectives. The purpose of the present thesis was to investigate behaviourally relevant neuroadaptations that develop with repeated MDMA exposure in laboratory rats.  Methods. First, the effect of chronic, long-access (6 hour) self-administration of MDMA on the accumulation of the transcription factor, ΔFosB, in the nucleus accumbens (core, shell), dorsal striatum (dorsomedial, dorsolateral, ventromedial, ventrolateral), prefrontal cortex (anterior cingulate, prelimbic, infralimbic, orbitofrontal), amygdala (central, basolateral), ventral tegmental area (anterior, posterior), and raphe (dorsal, median) was measured using immunohistochemistry. Second, the behavioural relevance of these findings was determined by examining the effect of bi-lateral intra-striatal (nucleus accumbens, dorsomedial striatum, dorsolateral striatum) microinjections of MDMA (200 μg/1 μL/side) on the expression of behavioural sensitisation following two days of withdrawal from a regimen of repeated, systemic MDMA exposure (10 mg/kg/day, i.p., for 5 days). Third, a procedure was developed to examine neurochemical correlates of sensitised MDMA-produced behaviour (0, 5, 10 mg/kg, i.p.) following the same regimen of repeated MDMA exposure. Samples were collected from the medial striatum using in vivo microdialysis and the extracellular concentrations of serotonin, dopamine, MDMA, and their metabolites were quantified using liquid chromatography coupled with quadrupole time-of-flight (Q-TOF) mass spectrometry. Lastly, a unique untargeted metabolomics procedure was developed to further analyse these microdialysis samples and to identify novel or unexpected metabolites that were relevant to the sensitised behavioural response produced by MDMA.  Results. MDMA self-administration produced region-dependant increases in ΔFosB. Significant increases in ΔFosB were observed in the nucleus accumbens core, the medial areas of the dorsal striatum, as well as all areas of the prefrontal cortex and amygdala. Small, but significant increases were also observed in the dorsal raphe. Increases were observed in the nucleus accumbens shell and the posterior tail of the ventral tegmental area, but these increases were not significant following statistical correction for multiple comparisons. Acute exposure to MDMA increased locomotor activity only when the drug was infused into the nucleus accumbens. Following repeated systemic exposure, behavioural sensitisation was expressed when MDMA was infused into both the nucleus accumbens or the dorsomedial striatum, but not the dorsolateral striatum. Analysis of microdialysates from the medial striatum indicated that behavioural sensitisation was accompanied by small increases in baseline levels of extracellular serotonin and decreased MDMA-produced increases in serotonin, but these changes were not statistically significant. Behavioural sensitisation was also accompanied by increased extracellular concentrations of dopamine at baseline and following acute MDMA exposure, but these data were not statistically analysed due to small sample sizes. MDMA-produced extracellular concentrations of MDMA did not change with repeated exposure. Untargeted metabolomics revealed potential changes in MDMA and dopamine metabolism that might be relevant to the sensitised behavioural response.  Conclusions. The findings of the current research suggest that repeated MDMA exposure results in many of the same neuroadaptations that result from repeated exposure to other drugs of abuse. These included increased ΔFosB expression in many brain regions that are relevant to addiction, such as the nucleus accumbens, dorsal striatum, and prefrontal cortex. Dopaminergic mechanisms also appeared to be influenced and were associated with sensitised MDMA-produced behaviour. Surprisingly, serotonergic mechanisms were not significantly impacted by repeated MDMA exposure under the current conditions. Some of the procedures developed in this thesis are unique and may be of value for future research investigating the neurochemical underpinnings of addictive behaviour or other disease states.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Cognitive and Behavioural Neuroscience

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Schenk, Susan; Hunt, Maree