Ras homolog enriched in striatum (Rhes) is a protein that exerts important physiological functions and modulates psychostimulant drug effects. On this basis, the object of this study was to assess 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) effects on microglial (CD11b) and astroglial (GFAP) activation and on dopamine neuron degeneration (TH) in wild-type (WT) and Rhes knockout (KO) male and female mice of different ages. Motor activity was also evaluated. Adult (3 months) MDMA-treated mice displayed an increase in GFAP-positive cells in striatum (STR), whereas the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) was affected only in male mice. In these mice, the increase of CD11b was more extensive including STR, SNc, motor cortex (CTX), ventral tegmental area (VTA), and nucleus accumbens (NAc). MDMA administration also affected TH immunoreactivity in both STR and SNc of male but not female WT and Rhes KO mice. In middle-aged mice (12 months), MDMA administration further increased GFAP and CD11b and decreased TH immunoreactivity in STR and SNc of all mice. Finally, MDMA induced a higher increase of motor activity in adult Rhes KO male, but not female mice. The results show that Rhes protein plays an important role on MDMA-mediated neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration dependent on gender and age, and confirm the important role of Rhes protein in neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative processes.
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