Fetal exposure to (+/-)-methylenedioxymethamphetamine in utero enhances the development and metabolism of serotonergic neurons in three-dimensional reaggregate tissue culture
Won L, Bubula N, Heller A.
Department of Neurobiology,
Pharmacology and Physiology,
The University of Chicago,
947 East 58th Street,
60637, Chicago, IL, USA
Brain Res Dev Brain Res 2002 Jul 30;137(1):67-73


Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, Ecstasy) is a potent psychomotor stimulant with neurotoxic potential which is widely abused by females of childbearing age raising serious public health concerns in terms of exposure of the fetus to the drug. The current study was conducted using the three-dimensional reaggregate tissue culture system as an approach to the assessment of risk to fetal brain cells following exposure to MDMA during early to mid-gestation. In this culture system, the serotonergic and dopaminergic mesencephalic-striatal projections are reconstructed and develop with a time course similar to that observed in vivo. Pregnant C57Bl/6J mice were injected twice daily with 40 mg/kg MDMA or saline from gestational day 6 to 13. On gestational day 14, mesencephalic and striatal cells from MDMA- and saline-exposed embryos were used to prepare reaggregate cultures. Levels of neurotransmitters and their metabolites in the reaggregates and culture medium were assessed at 22 and 36 days of culture. There was a long-term enhancement of serotonergic development and metabolism by fetal exposure to MDMA as evidenced by increased reaggregate serotonin levels as well as the elevated production and release of 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid in cultures prepared from MDMA-exposed embryos which persisted for up to 36 days of culture. Dopaminergic neurons in such cultures also exhibited increased metabolism as indicated by elevated levels of dihydroxyphenylacetic acid in reaggregate tissue and culture medium. The data obtained suggest that exposure to MDMA in utero during early to mid-gestation may result in more active serotonergic and dopaminergic neurons.

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