But when she treats a cell with mephedrone and then turns the lever to add MDPV [methylenedioxypyrovalerone], something strange and interesting happens. As with cocaine, the line on the computer climbs rapidly upwards, but when she takes it away, the line does not return back to baseline like it did with the cocaine. In fact, as long as the cell stays alive, the line never returns to its original position.
“Forty-five minutes after adding MDPV , it still can't go back to baseline,” Kim says.
What they've found is that there seemed to be a time delay built into the drug, so that mephedrone is acting before MDPV, releasing dopamine from the cell before reuptake is blocked. And once MDPV takes hold, it doesn't seem to let go.
“This is why people who abuse the drug feel the effects the next day,” she says.
Why MDPV causes such a prolonged response is central to this research, and De Felice has a theory. If you look at the chemical structure of MDPV, it has one structural feature that the other molecules don't: a short carbon chain with a methyl group at the end.
“It's got this little arm that sticks out,” he explains. “I think it's kind of like a fish hook. I think it goes in and it doesn't come out. That may be what makes it different than cocaine. It gets stuck in the transporter, and it holds it closed. (emphasis added)
This could explain the strange behavior among abusers of these drugs, De Felice said. In fact, he thinks ingesting bath salts is akin to knocking out the dopamine transporters altogether.
"Eventually the body will replace them, presumably," he said. "But for hours and hours, you've essentially removed the dopamine transporters. So you've really messed up the whole balance of neurotransmitters in the brain."
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