MDMA treatment paired with a trauma-cue promotes adaptive stress responses in a translational model of PTSD in rats

Shira Arluk, Michael A. Matar, Lior Carmi, Oded Arbel, Joseph Zohar, Doron Todder, Hagit Cohen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Scopus citations


    MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), a synthetic ring-substituted amphetamine, combined with psychotherapy has demonstrated efficacy for the treatment of chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients. This controlled prospective study aimed to assess the bio-behavioral underpinnings of MDMA in a translational model of PTSD. Rats exposed to predator-scent stress (PSS) were subjected to a trauma-cue at day 7 shortly after single-dose MDMA injection (5 mg/kg). The elevated plus maze and acoustic startle response tests were assessed on day 14 and served for classification into behavioral response groups. Freezing response to a further trauma-reminder was assessed on Day 15. The morphological characteristics of the dentate gyrus (DG) and basolateral amygdala (BLA) were subsequently examined. Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and 5-hydroxytryptamine involvement were evaluated using: (1) corticosterone measurements at 2 h and 4 h after MDMA treatment, (2) Lewis strain rats with blunted HPA-response and (3) pharmacological receptor-blockade. MDMA treatment was effective in attenuating stress behavioral responses only when paired with memory reactivation by a trauma-cue. The effects of the treatment on behavior were associated with a commensurate normalization of the dendritic cytoarchitecture of DG and BLA neurons. Pretreatment with RU486, Ketanserin, or Pindolol prevented the above improvement in anxiety-like behavioral responses. MDMA treatment paired with memory reactivation reduced the prevalence rate of PTSD-phenotype 14 days later and normalized the cytoarchitecture changes induced by PSS (in dendritic complexities) compared to saline control. MDMA treatment paired with a trauma-cue may modify or update the original traumatic memory trace through reconsolidation processes. These anxiolytic-like effects seem to involve the HPA axis and 5-HT systems.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number181
    JournalTranslational Psychiatry
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - 1 Dec 2022

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Psychiatry and Mental health
    • Biological Psychiatry
    • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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