Plant Compound Blocks Hyperthermia Caused by Ecstasy

September 6, 2005

Some people who use the drug Ecstasy (MDMA) become hyperthermic (overheated) and die from heart or kidney failure. Researchers have now discovered a compound in the fruit of the heavenly bamboo plant (Nandina domestica) that blocks and reverses the Ecstasy-induced hyperthermia in mice.

Nandina domestica (also known as the Thunberg plant, heavenly bamboo or sacred bamboo) is found in most parts of the United States. Extracts from the roots, leaves and stems of this plant are thought to have some medicinal value in treating respiratory problems. A team of researchers led by Dr. William E. Fantegrossi (Department of Pharmacology, University of Michigan) noticed that the chemical structure of nantenine, a compound found in the plant, was similar to that of Ecstasy. The team was aware that nantenine effects both serotonin and epinephrine neurotransmitter systems and calcium channels. Could nantenine somehow block the effects of MDMA?

The scientists tested the effects of nantenine on mice. To start, mice were implanted with small transmitters to measure body temperature. These transmitters sent radio signals to devices to record the body temperature of the mice.

Experiment 1: Does nantenine block the hyperthemic effects of MDMA?
Method: Mice were injected with nantenine before they were injected with MDMA.
Results: Mice injected with nantenine did NOT become hyperthermic when they were exposed to MDMA. If mice did not receive nantenine, they became hyperthemic 30 minutes after MDMA and their body temperature remained high for about two hours.

Experiment 2: Does nantenine reverse the hyperthemic effects of MDMA?
Method: Mice were injected with nantenine after they were injected with MDMA.
Results: All mice became hyperthermic after they were injected with MDMA. However, if the mice received an injection of nantenine 30 minutes after MDMA, their body temperature returned to normal quickly. Mice that did not receive nantenine after MDMA remained hyperthermic for about two hours.

These data suggest that nantenine may be used to treat people who develop dangerous fevers after they take Ecstasy. This is hopeful news because there are not many treatments currently available to treat people who overdose on Ecstasy. If nantenine works in people the same way that it does in mice, doctors will have a new tool to prevent Ecstasy-induced hyperthermia.

For references and more information about MDMA, see:
  1. Fantegrossi, W.E., Kiessel, C.L., Leach, P.T., Van Martin, C., Karabenick, R.L., Chen, X., Ohizumi, Y., Ullrich, T., Rice, K.C. and Woods, J.H. Nantenine: an antagonist of the behavioral and physiological effects of MDMA in mice. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 173:270-277, 2004.
  2. Ecstasy (MDMA) Alone Can Kill
  4. Ecstasy Infofax - from the National Institute on Drug Abuse
  5. Ecstasy and the Heart - Neuroscience for Kids

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