• behavioral sensitization;
  • immunohistochemistry;
  • locomotor activity


The behavioral profile in response to (±)-3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is characterized by acute hyperlocomotion that is primarily restricted to the periphery of the open field, whereas behavioral sensitization to MDMA reflects a selective increase in activity in the central zone, suggesting that acute effects and sensitization might rely on neuroadaptations in different systems. This study was thus undertaken to determine whether specific changes in neuronal activation could be correlated with either the acute or sensitized behavioral responses to MDMA. Animals received five daily intraperitoneal (i.p.) injections of saline or MDMA (10 mg/kg). Two days later, animals that received saline were injected with saline or MDMA (5 or 10 mg/kg, i.p.). Animals pretreated with MDMA were injected with saline or MDMA (5 mg/kg, i.p.). Locomotor activity was measured in an open field, and neuronal activation was examined by immunodetection of Fos. Acute MDMA exposure produced a dose-dependent increase in locomotion in the peripheral zone of the open field that was related to an increase in Fos expression in the ventromedial shell of the nucleus accumbens, ventral pallidum, several hypothalamic nuclei and rhomboid thalamic nucleus. Following repeated, intermittent exposure to MDMA, drug-produced hyperactivity became sensitized but, unlike the effect of increasing dose, the increased response was due to increased activity and time spent in the central zone. Furthermore, the sensitized behavioral response was related to changes in Fos expression in the lateral shell of the nucleus accumbens, central nucleus of the amygdala and anteromedial part of the lateral habenula. This study identifies neural substrates that might specifically underlie the sensitized response to MDMA.