Detrimental effects of the ‘bath salt’ methylenedioxypyrovalerone on social play behavior in male rats

Sara Schiavi, Francesca Melancia, Emilia Carbone, Valeria Buzzelli, Antonia Manduca, Patricia Jiménez Peinado, Clemens Zwergel, Antonello Mai, Patrizia Campolongo, Louk J.M.J. Vanderschuren, Viviana Trezza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) is the most popular synthetic cathinone found in products marketed as ‘bath salts’, widely abused among teenagers and young adults. Synthetic cathinones have pharmacological effects resembling those of psychostimulants, which are known to disrupt a variety of social behaviors. However, despite the popular use of MDPV by young people in social contexts, information about its effects on social behavior is scarce. To investigate the impact of MDPV on social behavior at young age, and the underlying neurobehavioral mechanisms, we focused on social play behavior. Social play behavior is the most characteristic social behavior displayed by young mammals and it is crucial for neurobehavioral development. Treatment with MDPV reduced social play behavior in both juvenile and young adult male rats, and its play-suppressant effect was subject to tolerance but not sensitization. As the behavioral effects of MDPV have been ascribed to dopaminergic and noradrenergic neurotransmission, and given the role of these neurotransmitters in social play, we investigated the involvement of dopamine and noradrenaline in the play-suppressant effects of MDPV. The effects of MDPV on social play were blocked by either the α2 adrenoceptor antagonist RX821002 or the dopamine receptor antagonist flupenthixol, given alone or together at sub-effective doses. In sum, MDPV selectively suppresses the most vigorous social behavior of developing rats through both noradrenergic and dopaminergic mechanisms. This study provides important preclinical evidence of the deleterious effects of MDPV on social behavior, and as such increases our understanding of the neurobehavioral effects of this popular cathinone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2012-2019
Number of pages8
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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