Scientists researching mice have realized that MDMA may have the ability to return the brains of old mice to a more malleable state, like when they were younger, Gizmodo reports.
Earlier stages of brain development in which the brain is more plastic are known as "critical periods." During these times, mice are able to learn social behaviors much more easily, and these social behaviors are much more enjoyable. The new research published on Wednesday in the journal Nature provides quantitative evidence that MDMA can help re-open those critical periods. The research in mice provides a preliminary explanation as to how and why the drug has helped treat post-traumatic stress disorder in humans.
“Anyone who has studied critical periods ends their papers with ‘and for clinical reasons, it would be great if we could...understand how this works and to one day be able to open critical periods,’” said assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University Gül Dölen. “We actually did both.”
The researchers tested mice that belonged to 14 different ages. Adolescent mice preferred to be in social environments, but when they reached adulthood, they didn't show any preference for belong alone or with other mice. This served as evidence that a critical period around adolescence in which mice enjoyed social behavior exists.
But when the older mice received small injections of MDMA, they showed a preference to be in social environments again 48 hours later—long after the effects of MDMA had worn off.
“This paper was very thorough and convincing in its methods," said psychology professor at the University of California, Davis Karen Bales.