Forensic Toxicology

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 132–144 | Cite as

MDMA alone affects sensorimotor and prepulse inhibition responses in mice and rats: tips in the debate on potential MDMA unsafety in human activity

  • Matteo Marti
  • Margherita Neri
  • Sabrine Bilel
  • Marco Di Paolo
  • Raffaele La Russa
  • Andrea Ossato
  • Emanuela TurillazziEmail author
Original Article



MDMA is a psychoactive drug that has been increasingly abused worldwide, due to its entactogenic properties. However, concerns on its safety exist, particularly regarding its effects on attentional skills and performance. Evidence from the literature shows contrasting effects of MDMA. It generally acts as a pshychomotor stimulant, thus improving arousal and psychomotor function. However, MDMA has been demonstrated to negatively influence other skills. Consequently, human activities that require alertness, and accurate and quick reflexes (i.e. driving, operations at the workplace, etc.) could be negatively affected. In the present study, the effect of MDMA (0.1–20 mg/kg, intraperitoneally) on sensorimotor and startle/prepulse inhibition responses was evaluated in a controlled rodent experimental setting.


Sensorimotor studies, evaluation of visual, acoustic, and tactile responses, evaluation of spontaneous locomotion, startle and repulse inhibition analyses were performed in an experimental controlled rodent model (rats and mice), following the administration of MDMA (0.1–20 mg/kg) intraperitoneally.


Our findings show that all the MDMA-treated animals had impaired sensorimotor and prepulse inhibition responses compared to the control subjects at the early (5, 30 and 60 min) testing time points while all the effects disappeared, respectively, 6, 16 and 24 h post-MDMA treatment.


Within the ongoing debate on the safety of recreational abuse of MDMA, our results reveal acute prominent changes in sensorimotor and attentional performance, sensor response to external stimuli, and locomotor activity due to a single administration of a dose of MDMA (corresponding to a dose producing in humans both ‘desirable’ entactogenic effects and physiological adverse effects).


MDMA Sensorimotor responses Attentional skills Human activities Safety 



This research has been funded by the Drug Policies Department, Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Italy (project NS-Drugs to M. Marti) and by local funds from the University of Ferrara (FAR 2016 and FAR 2017 to M. Marti).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All the authors declare no competing interest.

Ethical approval

The study on animals is compliance with ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Japanese Association of Forensic Toxicology and Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matteo Marti
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Margherita Neri
    • 1
  • Sabrine Bilel
    • 1
  • Marco Di Paolo
    • 4
  • Raffaele La Russa
    • 5
  • Andrea Ossato
    • 6
  • Emanuela Turillazzi
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Morphology, Experimental Medicine and Surgery, Section of Legal MedicineUniversity of FerraraFerraraItaly
  2. 2.Centre for Neuroscience and National Institute of NeuroscienceRomeItaly
  3. 3.Collaborative Centre for the Italian National Early Warning System, Department of Anti-Drug PoliciesPresidency of the Council of MinistersRomeItaly
  4. 4.Section of Legal Medicine, Department of Surgical, Medical, Molecular Pathology and Critical MedicineUniversity of PisaPisaItaly
  5. 5.Department of Anatomical, Histological, Forensic and Orthopaedic SciencesSapienza University of RomeRomeItaly
  6. 6.Department of Life Sciences and Biotechnology (SVeB)University of FerraraFerraraItaly

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