Prosocial Effects of MDMA in Nonhuman Primates Open Access

Oliver, Erika Beth (2015)

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MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is a recreational drug that has profound effects on prosocial behavior. These effects include a sense of increased trust and openness. Due to these unique prosocial effects, MDMA is proposed to have potential therapeutic value for disorders that are characterized by an inability to process relevant social cues, such as PTSD or Autism. Previously, both human and animal studies have shown that MDMA administration results in an increase in prosocial behavior. However, there has not been a study that examines the long-term prosocial effects of MDMA. Thus, the goal of this study was to analyze the long-term effect of MDMA on prosocial behavior in squirrel monkeys. All components of the study were done using male squirrel monkeys (saimiri sciureus) as subjects. A single dose of MDMA was given to each monkey twice per week in a lab setting. Behavior on subsequent days following MDMA administration was examined in order to evaluate the long-term off drug effect. Vocalizations and behavior while on the drug in the lab and off the drug in the animal's homeroom were analyzed to understand the acute and long-term increase in prosocial behavior and vocalizations. The experiment was designed in order to examine if multiple exposures to MDMA result in a long-term residual increase in prosocial behavior while the monkeys are off the drug. Behavior in the experimental sessions was compared to the baseline data in both the homeroom and lab setting in order to determine the effect MDMA has on prosocial behavior. MDMA administration resulted in a significant increase in off-drug prosocial behavior, as well as a decrease in locomotion while off-drug. Due to the current findings of this study, further pharmacological experiments may be done in order to develop a drug that lacks the abuse liability, side effects, and neurotoxicity of MDMA.

Table of Contents


Purpose and Rationale...1


Background and History of MDMA...2


Involvement of Serotonin...5

The Role of Oxytocin...7

Structure and Mechanism of Action...7

Human Studies...8



Behavioral Scoring and Vocalizations...11

Duration and Experimental Design...13

Control Period...13

Experimental Period...14

Follow-Up Studies...15

Statistical Analysis...16


Behavioral Results...17

Vocalization Results...18


Future Studies...22



List of Figures and Graphs

Figure 1-MDMA, Methamphetamine, and Mescaline...26

Figure 2-Mechanism of Action of MDMA...27

Figure 3-Experimental Design...28

Table 1- Descriptive Statistics...29

Figure 4-MDMA Homeroom Behavior...30

Figure 5-MDMA Lab Behavior...31

Figure 6-Affiliation by Monkey-Homeroom...32

Figure 7-Affiliation by Monkey-Lab...33

Figure 8-Total Prosocial Affiliative Calls by Time and Dose...34

Figure 9-Average Frequency of Prosocial Calls by Time & Dose...35

Figure 10-Vocalizations by Type and Condition...36

Figure 11A-B MDMA Lab Behavior in Black and Green Caps...37


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