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Administration of D-fenfluramine (D-FEN) or parachloroamphetamine (PCA) can produce long-lasting decreases in serotonin transporter (SERT) binding and tissue levels of serotonin (5-HT) in rat forebrain. These changes have been viewed as evidence for 5-HT neurotoxicity, but no studies have measured SERT protein levels. In the present study, we determined the effect of high-dose D-FEN or PCA, administered according to a "neurotoxic" dosing regimen, on the density of SERT sites using ligand binding methods and on SERT protein levels using Western blots. Rats were sacrificed 2 days and 2 weeks after administration of drug or saline. The density of SERT was determined in homogenates of caudate and whole brain minus caudate. D-FEN and PCA decreased SERT binding by 30-60% in both tissues and at both time points. Similarly, D-FEN and PCA administration profoundly decreased tissue 5-HT and 5-HIAA in frontal cortex. Despite the large decreases in SERT binding and depletion of tissue 5-HT that occurred with D-FEN administration, SERT protein expression, as determined by Western blot analysis, did not change in either tissue or time point. PCA administration decreased SERT protein by about 20% only at the 2-day point in the caudate. Drug treatments did not change expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), a hallmark indicator of neuronal damage, in whole brain minus caudate in the 2-week group. These results support the hypothesis that decreases in tissue 5-HT and SERT binding sites induced by D-FEN and PCA reflect neuroadaptive changes, rather than neurotoxic effects.


Richard B Rothman, Subramaniam Jayanthi, Xiaoying Wang, Christina M Dersch, Jean L Cadet, Thomas Prisinzano, Kenner C Rice, Michael H Baumann. High-dose fenfluramine administration decreases serotonin transporter binding, but not serotonin transporter protein levels, in rat forebrain. Synapse (New York, N.Y.). 2003 Dec 1;50(3):233-9

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PMID: 14515341

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