Enhanced tau phosphorylation in the hippocampus of mice treated with 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine ("Ecstasy")

Carla L. Busceti, Francesca Biagioni, Barbara Riozzi, Giuseppe Battaglia, Marianna Storto, Carlo Cinque, Gemma Molinaro, Roberto Gradini, Andrea Caricasole, Anna Maria Canudas, Valeria Bruno, Ferdinando Nicoletti, Francesco Fornai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) ("Ecstasy") produces neurotoxic effects, which result into an impairment of learning and memory and other neurological dysfunctions. We examined whether MDMA induces increases in tau protein phosphorylation, which are typically associated with Alzheimer's disease and other chronic neurodegenerative disorders. We injected mice with MDMA at cumulative doses of 10-50 mg/kg intraperitoneally, which are approximately equivalent to doses generally consumed by humans. MDMA enhanced the formation of reactive oxygen species and induced reactive gliosis in the hippocampus, without histological evidence of neuronal loss. An acute or 6 d treatment with MDMA increased tau protein phosphorylation in the hippocampus, revealed by both anti-phospho(Ser404)-tau and paired helical filament-1 antibodies. This increase was restricted to the CA2/CA3 subfields and lasted 1 and 7 d after acute and repeated MDMA treatment, respectively. Tau protein was phosphorylated as a result of two nonredundant mechanisms: (1) inhibition of the canonical Wnt (wingless-type MMTV integration site family) pathway, with ensuing activation of glycogen synthase kinase-3β; and (2) activation of type-5 cyclin-dependent kinase (Cdk5). MDMA induced the expression of the Wnt antagonist, Dickkopf-1, and the expression of the Cdk5-activating protein, p25. In addition, the increase in tau phosphorylation was attenuated by strategies that rescued the Wnt pathway or inhibited Cdk5. Finally, an impairment in hippocampus-dependent spatial learning was induced by doses of MDMA that increased tau phosphorylation, although the impairment outlasted this biochemical event. We conclude that tau hyperphosphorylation in the hippocampus may contribute to the impairment of learning and memory associated with MDMA abuse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3234-3245
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Mar 19 2008


  • Cdk5
  • Dickkopf-1
  • Hippocampus
  • MDMA
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Tau phosphorylation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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