Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 13–21 | Cite as

MDMA (Ecstasy) Decreases the Number of Neurons and Stem Cells in Embryonic Cortical Cultures

  • Anna M. S. Kindlundh-Högberg
  • Chris Pickering
  • Grzegorz Wicher
  • David Hobér
  • Helgi B. Schiöth
  • Åsa Fex Svenningsen
Original Paper


Ecstasy, 3,4-methylenedioxymetamphetamine (MDMA), is a recreational drug used among adolescents, including young pregnant women. MDMA passes the placental barrier and may therefore influence fetal development. The aim was to investigate the direct effect of MDMA on cortical cells using dissociated CNS cortex of rat embryos, E17. The primary culture was exposed to a single dose of MDMA and collected 5 days later. MDMA caused a dramatic, dose-dependent (100 and 400 μM) decrease in nestin-positive stem cell density, as well as a significant reduction (400 μM) in NeuN-positive cells. By qPCR, MDMA (200 μM) caused a significant decrease in mRNA expression of the 5HT3 receptor, dopamine D1 receptor, and glutamate transporter EAAT2-1, as well as an increase in mRNA levels of the NMDA NR1 receptor subunit and the 5HT1A receptor. In conclusion, MDMA caused a marked reduction in stem cells and neurons in embryonic cortical primary cell cultures, which was accompanied by changes in mRNA expression of specific receptors and transporters for glutamatergic and monoaminergic neurotransmitters.


MDMA Cell culture Cortex Embryos Neural stem cell Cell death mRNA 5HT3 receptor Dopamine D1 receptor Glutamate transporter 



This work was supported by the Swedish Research Council (VR-medicin), the Alcohol Research Council of the Swedish Alcohol Retailing Monopoly (Systembolaget), Gyllenstiernska Krapperupsstiftelsen, Åhlen and Magn. Bergvalls stiftelser, Tore Nilson foundation, and Svenska Läkaresällskapet. Drs. Anna Kindlundh-Högberg and Grzegorz Wicher were supported by the Swedish Brain Foundation (Hjärnfonden). Dr. Chris Pickering was supported first by the AFA Insurance grant for Biomedical Alcohol Research and then by the Swedish Brain Foundation (Hjärnfonden).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna M. S. Kindlundh-Högberg
    • 1
  • Chris Pickering
    • 3
  • Grzegorz Wicher
    • 1
  • David Hobér
    • 1
  • Helgi B. Schiöth
    • 1
  • Åsa Fex Svenningsen
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of NeuroscienceUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  2. 2.IMB-Anatomy and NeurobiologyUniversity of Southern DenmarkOdenseDenmark
  3. 3.Department of Neuroscience & Physiology, Institute of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry, Addiction Biology UnitUniversity of GothenburgGothenburgSweden

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