Repost: The Women of MDMA Research

There is a #womeninscience meme bouncing around the Twitts today. Click the link and you'll see some of the conversation, even if you are not a habitual Twitter user. Please consider joining in with an observation about, well, anything related to the life of women in science. On the Twitts, on your blog, Facebook or in the comments here or elsewhere.

I have an older post that I wrote some time ago to introduce some of the women who have contributed to the science that I talk about on the blog. This post originally appeared 24 Jul 2008.


A comment left by a reader some time ago took exception to one of my posts highlighting another blogger.

wow, that is some excellent PR for a grad student to get for free. perhaps you could spotlight a female grad student as well...?

The ensuing discussion planted the idea for this post.
I write this post to honor and highlight the contributions of those women scientists who have worked on MDMA-related topics. It is by no means an exhaustive list and I will no doubt be expressing my personal biases for what I find to be important scientifically. The listed order is more or less in chronological order for when each investigator published her first (or most salient to me) MDMA-related paper. I'm trying to be a little bit objective by pubmedding 'MDMA OR Ecstasy' and working through the titles in reverse chronological order. Although I'm going to provide the PubMed links, as always I will point out that the MAPS collection is a good place to go looking for papers.

Chris-Ellyn Johanson: Showed (with Suzette Evans) that MDMA would substitute for amphetamine in pigeons and was a coauthor on another drug discrimination study in monkeys. Her recent work has focused on the subjective and physiological effects of MDMA in human volunteers.

Lisa H.Gold: As a grad student, elucidated the locomotor stimulant effects of MDMA. She was later the PI of the second (of three) study showing that classical MDMA toxicity regimens did not disrupt behavior or cognitive function in (unchallenged) monkeys.

Kathryn A. Cunningham: A series of papers that examined the contributions of specific serotonin receptor subtypes to the locomotor-stimulating and thermoregulatory effects of MDMA.

Una McCann: Provided many observations of impaired neuropsychological and physiological function in MDMA/Ecstasy users as well as coauthoring many animal neurotoxicity studies during her long-term collaboration with G. A. Ricuarte. Her papers using PET imaging to provide evidence of altered serotonin transporter expression in the brains of humans users are probably her most well-known contributions.

M. Isabel Colado: Her work has concentrated on elucidating many of the circumstantial contributors to, and mechanisms of, MDMA-induced neurotoxicity including exploring the roles of ambient temperature, metabolism rate and cytokine responses.

Lisa E. Baker: A paper as a grad student on the discriminative stimulus effects of the stereoisomers and later showed (with her graduate student Amy Goodwin) that a three-lever drug-discrimination procedure could dissociate stimulant-like from hallucinogen-like subjective properties of MDMA in rats.

E Gouzoulis-Mayfrank: A body of work mostly focused on memory capabilities of MDMA users. A bit of EEG and fMRI imaging as well.

Jessica Malberg: Produced the most comprehensive demonstration that the neurotoxic outcome of repeated MDMA in the rat depended on elevated body temperature which in turn was modulated by ambient temperature. The impact of this paper on the subsequent work of many labs was tremendous.

Liesbeth Reneman: Another PI with a sustained series of studies into lasting neuropsychological deficits in MDMA users and correlating these with SPECT imaging markers that may be consistent with lasting neurochemical alterations.

Susan Schenk: The only lab to establish MDMA self-administration in rats to any convincing degree. There is some controversy over just what is going on but I think it is safe to say that her publications have impact, regardless of the eventual destination of this area of MDMA research.


Okay, I think this little exercise shows that woman investigators are a major part of the MDMA research history, making a number of observations that have continued impact on the research. There have been many male investigators as well, naturally, but this is not a large sub-field and the representation is quite good. In most of the above cases these women identified important phenomena first, best and/or with a sustained focus that really covered significant ground.

There is much additional promise for the future. I left off where I did because I was approaching the current era and it will be a matter of time to see which graduate students and postdoctoral trainees go on to develop similarly stellar reputations and track records in MDMA research. Keep your eye out for names such as O'Shea, Goodwin, Daniela, Jager, Cornish, Clemens...

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[Ed note: I have little doubt that I have overlooked someone who made a salient and important contribution to the MDMA literature. It is not intentional and if anyone else springs to mind please drop a comment.]

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