, Volume 189, Issue 4, pp 489-503
Date: 12 Oct 2005

MDMA (Ecstasy) and human dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin transporters: implications for MDMA-induced neurotoxicity and treatment



3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, designated as “Ecstasy” if illicitly marketed in tablet form) induces significant decrements in neuronal serotonin (5-HT) markers in humans, nonhuman primates, and rats as a function of dosing and dosing regimen. In rats, MDMA-mediated effects are attributed, in part, to selective high-affinity transport of MDMA into 5-HT neurons by the 5-HT transporter (SERT), followed by extensive 5-HT release.


To clarify whether SERT-selective effects of MDMA at human monoamine transporters can account for the reported MDMA-induced selective toxicity of serotonin neurons in primate brain.


We investigated the interaction of [3H](±, RS)- (+, S)- and (−, R)-MDMA with the human SERT, dopamine (DA) transporter (DAT), and norepinephrine (NE) transporter (NET) in stably transfected human embryo kidney (HEK)-293 cells.


The human DAT, NET, and SERT actively transported [3H]RS(±)-MDMA saturably, stereoselectively, and in a temperature-, concentration-, and transporter-dependent manner. MDMA exhibited the highest affinity for the NET≫SERT≥DAT, the same rank order for MDMA inhibition of [3H]DA, [3H]NE, and [3H]5-HT transport and stimulated release of the [3H]monoamines, which differed from reports derived from rodent monoamine transporters. The extent of MDMA-induced release of 5-HT was higher compared with release of DA or NE.


The affinity of MDMA for the human SERT in transfected cells does not clarify the apparent selective toxicity of MDMA for serotonin neurons, although conceivably, its higher efficacy for stimulating 5-HT release may be a distinguishing factor. The findings highlight the need to investigate MDMA effects in DAT-, SERT-, and NET-expressing neurons in the primate brain and the therapeutic potential of NET or DAT inhibitors, in addition to SERT-selective inhibitors, for alleviating the pharmacological effects of MDMA.

Klaus A. Miczek as Principal Editor—the special issue “A Contemporary View of MDMA.”
This research was presented by C. Verrico et al. in abstract forms at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience 2003 and 2004.