Could MDMA Promote Stemness Characteristics in Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells via mGlu5 Metabotropic Glutamate Receptors?

(Pages: 185-192)
Rokhsareh Meamar, M.D.Ph.D., 1,2,3,*Fereshte Karamali, M.Sc., 1Seyed Ali Mousavi, M.D., 2Hossein Baharvand, Ph.D., 4,5Mohammad Hossein Nasr-Esfahani, Ph.D., 1,4,*
* Corresponding Address: P.O.Box: 8158968433 Department of Cell and Molecular Biology Cell Science Research Center Royan Institute for Animal Biotechnology ACECR Isfahan Iran
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Meamar Rokhsareh, Karamali Fereshte, Mousavi Seyed Ali, Baharvand Hossein, Nasr-Esfahani Mohammad Hossein. Could MDMA Promote Stemness Characteristics in Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells via mGlu5 Metabotropic Glutamate Receptors?. Cell J. 2012; 14(3): 185-192.



Ecstasy, or 3, 4 (±) methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), is a potent neurotoxic drug. One of the mechanisms for its toxicity is the secondary release of glutamate. Mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs) express only one glutamate receptor, the metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGlu5), which is involved in the maintenance and self-renewal of mESCs. This study aims to investigate whether MDMA could influence self-renewal via the mGlu5 receptor in mESCs.

Materials and Methods:

In this expremental study, we used immunocytochemistry and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to determine the presence of the mGlu5 receptor in mESCs. The expression of mGlu5 was evaluated after MDMA was added to mESCs throughout neural precursor cell formation as group 1 and during neural precursor cell differentiation as group 2. The stemness characteristic in treated mESCs by immunofluorescence and flow cytometry was studied. Finally, caspase activity was evaluated by fluorescence staining in the treated group. One-way ANOVA or repeated measure of ANOVA according to the experimental design was used for statistical analyses.


In this study mGlu5 expression was shown in mESCs. In terms of neuronal differentiation, MDMA affected mGlu5 expression during neural precursor cell formation (group 1) and not during neural precursor differentiation (group 2). MDMA (450 µM) induced a significant increment in self-renewal properties in mESCs but did not reverse 2-methyl-6(phenylethynyl) pyridine (MPEP, 1 µM), a non-competitive selective mGlu5 antagonist. Fluorescence staining with anti-caspase 3 showed a significant increase in the number of apoptotic cells in the MDMA group.


We observed a dual role for MDMA on mESCs: reduced proliferation and maintenance of self-renewal. The lack of decreasing stemness characteristic in presence of MPEP suggests that MDMA mediates its role through a different mechanism that requires further investigation. In conclusion, despite being toxic, MDMA maintains stemness characteristics.