Actions of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) on cerebral dopaminergic, serotonergic and cholinergic neurons

Gary A. Gudelsky, Bryan K. Yamamoto

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is an amphetamine derivative and a popular drug of abuse that exhibits mild hallucinogenic and rewarding properties and engenders feelings of connectedness and openness. The unique psychopharmacological profile of this drug of abuse most likely is derived from the property of MDMA to promote the release of dopamine and serotonin (5-HT) in multiple brain regions. The present review highlights primarily data from studies employing in vivo microdialysis that detail the actions of MDMA on the release of these neurotransmitters. Data from in vivo microdialysis experiments indicate that MDMA, like most amphetamine derivatives, increases the release of dopamine in the striatum, n. accumbens and prefrontal cortex. However, the release of dopamine evoked by MDMA in each of these brain regions appears to be modulated by concomitantly released 5-HT and the subsequent activation of 5-HT2A/C or 5-HT2B/C receptors. In addition to its stimulatory effect on the release of monoamines, MDMA also enhances the release of acetylcholine in the striatum, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, and this cholinergic response appears to be secondary to the activation of histaminergic, dopaminergic and/or serotonergic receptors. Beyond the acute stimulatory effect of MDMA on neurotransmitter release, MDMA also increases the extracellular concentration of energy substrates, e.g., glucose and lactate in the brain. In contrast to the acute stimulatory actions of MDMA on the release of monoamines and acetylcholine, the repeated administration of high doses of MDMA is thought to result in a selective neurotoxicity to 5-HT axon terminals in the rat. Additional studies are reviewed that focus on the alterations in neurotransmitter responses to pharmacological and physiological stimuli that accompany MDMA-induced 5-HT neurotoxicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)198-207
Number of pages10
JournalPharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • 5-HT
  • Acetylcholine
  • Dopamine
  • Glucose
  • MDMA
  • Microdialysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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