THURSDAY, Sept. 4, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Rat pups exposed to the drug Ecstasy at an early stage of pregnancy suffered changes in brain chemistry and behavior, says a study by researchers at Rush Presbyterian-St Luke's Medical Center in Chicago.
The study found the changes in 21-day-old rat pups exposed in the womb to the drug. A 21-day-old rat is roughly equivalent to a 2- to 6-year-old human.
The researchers injected eight pregnant rats twice a day with Ecstasy from day 14 through day 20 of pregnancy, a period that corresponds to the first trimester of human pregnancy. Another eight pregnant rats in a control group were injected twice daily with saline.
Brain tissue of the rat pups was examined when they were 21 days old. The researchers found the rats exposed to Ecstasy had a 502 percent increase in the number of dopamine neuron fibers in the frontal cortex compared with young control rats.
Abnormal or overly numerous connections in the brain's frontal cortex may cause aberrant signaling, leading to abnormal behavior.
The young rats exposed to Ecstasy also showed similar but smaller increases in dopamine fibers in the striatum -- an area of the brain involved in locomotion and reward -- and in the nucleus accumbens, which is the primary site of action of rewarding stimuli.
The rat pups also had slight decreases in dopamine metabolism in brain structures involved in reward, addiction, movement and learning.
The study appears on the Web site of the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology.
Here's where you can learn more about Ecstasy.