Locomotor effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and its deuterated form in mice: psychostimulant effects, stereotypy, and sensitization

  • Michael D. Berquist
  • Sebastian Leth-Petersen
  • Jesper Langgaard Kristensen
  • William E. FantegrossiEmail author
Original Investigation



There is a renewed interest in the use of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) for treating psychiatric conditions. Although MDMA has entered phase II clinical trials and shows promise as an adjunct treatment, there is an extensive literature detailing the potential neurotoxicity and adverse neurobehavioral effects associated with MDMA use. Previous research indicates that the adverse effects of MDMA may be due to its metabolism into reactive catechols that can enter the brain and serve directly as neurotoxicants. One approach to mitigate MDMA’s potential for adverse effects is to reduce O-demethylation by deuterating the methylenedioxy ring of MDMA. There are no studies that have evaluated the effects of deuterating MDMA on behavioral outcomes.


The purpose of the present study was to assess the motor-stimulant effects of deuterated MDMA (d2-MDMA) and compare them to MDMA in male mice.


Two experiments were performed to quantify mouse locomotor activity and to vary the drug administration regimen (single bolus administration or cumulative administration).


The results of Experiments 1 and 2 indicate that d2-MDMA is less effective at eliciting horizontal locomotion than MDMA; however, the differences between the compounds diminish as the number of cumulative administrations increase. Both d2-MDMA and MDMA can elicit sensitized responses, and these effects cross-sensitize to the prototypical drug of abuse methamphetamine. Thus, d2-MDMA functions as a locomotor stimulant similar to MDMA, but, depending on the dosing regimen, may be less susceptible to inducing sensitization to stereotyped movements.


These findings indicate that d2-MDMA is behaviorally active and produces locomotor effects that are similar to MDMA, which warrant additional assessments of d2-MDMA’s behavioral and physiological effects to determine the conditions under which this compound may serve as a relatively safer alternative to MDMA for clinical use.


3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine MDMA Locomotor activity Sensitization Stereotypy Deuterium substitution Cumulative administration Cross-sensitization Methamphetamine 



The authors thank Lauren Russell and William Hyatt for assisting with surgeries.

Funding information

This research was funded by NIH grants DA022981 and GM110702, and DEA/FDA contract HHSF223201610079C. Racemic d2-MDMA hydrochloride was synthesized by Sebastian Leth-Petersen at the Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 2, 2100 København Ø, Denmark.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

213_2019_5380_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1006 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 1005 kb)
213_2019_5380_MOESM2_ESM.docx (1.4 mb)
ESM 2 (DOCX 1484 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael D. Berquist
    • 1
  • Sebastian Leth-Petersen
    • 2
  • Jesper Langgaard Kristensen
    • 2
  • William E. Fantegrossi
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, College of MedicineUniversity of Arkansas for Medical SciencesLittle RockUSA
  2. 2.Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology, Faculty of Health and Medical SciencesUniversity of CopenhagenKøbenhavn ØDenmark

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