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Keywords:

  • 4-methylmethcathinone;
  • c-Fos;
  • immunohistochemistry;
  • locomotor activity;
  • mephedrone;
  • social interaction

ABSTRACT

Mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone) is a novel recreational drug that has rapidly increased in popularity in recent years. Users report mephedrone as having the stimulant-like qualities of methamphetamine and cocaine, combined with the prosocial, entactogenic effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Anecdotal and case study reports indicate that mephedrone may have the potential to engender compulsive patterns of use as well as toxicity in overdose. However, there have been almost no neuropharmacological investigations of the drug up to this point. Here we examined the effects of two different mephedrone doses [15 and 30 mg/kg, intraperitoneal (IP)] relative to the well-known stimulant methamphetamine (2 mg/kg IP) in adolescent rats. Rats were injected, assessed for locomotor activity for 60 minutes and then tested in a 10-minute social preference test (measuring time spent in close proximity to a real rat versus a dummy rat). Their brains were then processed using Fos immunohistochemistry to determine patterns of brain activation. Results showed that mephedrone caused profound locomotor hyperactivity at both dose levels while tending to reduce social preference. Patterns of Fos expression with mephedrone resembled a combination of those observed with methamphetamine and MDMA, with particularly strong Fos expression in the cortex, dorsal and ventral striatum, ventral tegmental area (typical of both MDMA and methamphetamine) and supraoptic nucleus (typical of MDMA). These results demonstrate for the first time the powerful stimulant effects of mephedrone in animal models and its capacity to activate mesolimbic regions. These results also provide some empirical basis to user reports that mephedrone subjectively resembles a MDMA/methamphetamine hybrid.