Br J Pharmacol 2015 Feb 15;172(3):883-94. Epub 2014 Dec 15.
Department of Pharmacology, Temple University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, USA; Center for Substance Abuse Research, Temple University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Background And Purpose: Synthetic cathinones, commonly referred to as 'bath salts', are a group of amphetamine-like drugs gaining popularity worldwide. 4-Methylmethcathinone (mephedrone, MEPH) is the most commonly abused synthetic cathinone in the UK, and exerts its effects by acting as a substrate-type releaser at monoamine transporters. Similar to other cathinone-related compounds, MEPH has a chiral centre and exists stably as two enantiomers: R-mephedrone (R-MEPH) and S-mephedrone (S-MEPH).
Experimental Approach: Here, we provide the first investigation into the neurochemical and behavioural effects of R-MEPH and S-MEPH. We analysed both enantiomers in rat brain synaptosome neurotransmitter release assays and also investigated their effects on locomotor activity (e.g. ambulatory activity and repetitive movements), behavioural sensitization and reward.
Key Results: Both enantiomers displayed similar potency as substrates (i.e. releasers) at dopamine transporters, but R-MEPH was much less potent than S-MEPH as a substrate at 5-HT transporters. Locomotor activity was evaluated in acute and repeated administration paradigms, with R-MEPH producing greater repetitive movements than S-MEPH across multiple doses. After repeated drug exposure, only R-MEPH produced sensitization of repetitive movements. R-MEPH produced a conditioned place preference whereas S-MEPH did not. Lastly, R-MEPH and S-MEPH produced biphasic profiles in an assay of intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS), but R-MEPH produced greater ICSS facilitation than S-MEPH.
Conclusions And Implications: Our data are the first to demonstrate stereospecific effects of MEPH enantiomers and suggest that the predominant dopaminergic actions of R-MEPH (i.e. the lack of serotonergic actions) render this stereoisomer more stimulant-like when compared with S-MEPH. This hypothesis warrants further study.