3,4-Methylenedioxy-methamphetamine induces in vivo regional up-regulation of central nicotinic receptors in rats and potentiates the regulatory effects of nicotine on these receptors

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Nicotine (NIC), the main psychostimulant compound of smoked tobacco, exerts its effects through activation of central nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR), which become up-regulated after chronic administration. Recent work has demonstrated that the recreational drug 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) has affinity for nAChR and also induces up-regulation of nAChR in PC 12 cells. Tobacco and MDMA are often consumed together. In the present work we studied the in vivo effect of a classic chronic dosing schedule of MDMA in rats, alone or combined with a chronic schedule of NIC, on the density of nAChR and on serotonin reuptake transporters. MDMA induced significant decreases in [3H]paroxetine binding in the cortex and hippocampus measured 24 h after the last dose and these decreases were not modified by the association with NIC. In the prefrontal cortex, NIC and MDMA each induced significant increases in [3H]epibatidine binding (29.5 and 34.6%, respectively) with respect to saline-treated rats, and these increases were significantly potentiated (up to 72.1%) when the two drugs were associated. Also in this area, [3H]methyllycaconitine binding was increased a 42.1% with NIC + MDMA but not when they were given alone. In the hippocampus, MDMA potentiated the α7 regulatory effects of NIC (raising a 25.5% increase to 52.5%) but alone was devoid of effect. MDMA had no effect on heteromeric nAChR in striatum and a coronal section of the midbrain containing superior colliculi, geniculate nuclei, substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area. Specific immunoprecipitation of solubilised receptors suggests that the up-regulated heteromeric nAChRs contain α4 and β2 subunits. Western blots with specific α4 and α7 antibodies showed no significant differences between the groups, indicating that, as reported for nicotine, up-regulation caused by MDMA is due to post-translational events rather than increased receptor synthesis.

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