Protein found central to ecstasy fever

Scientists have identified a protein contributing to the high fevers that are sometimes generated by 3,4-methylendioxymethamphetamin, the drug better known as ecstasy.

Debate about the stimulant intensified recently with the retraction of a study indicating that casual use of the drug kills brain cells and can be deadly (SN: 10/4/03, p. 221: Available to subscribers at Scientists retract ecstasy drug finding).

Scientists know that overdoses can cause a dramatic spike in body temperature, which sometimes leads to fatal organ failure. In the Nov. 27, 2003 Nature, researchers from Ohio Northern University in Ada and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Md., report that mice lacking a molecule called uncoupling protein 3 (UCP-3) don’t suffer fevers or die when given ecstasy. UCP-3, which is found in skeletal muscle, resembles other proteins that mammals and even some plants use to convert energy into heat (SN: 12/13/03, p. 379: Warm-Blooded Plants?).

The investigators speculate that the actions of UCP-3 also contribute to the fevers brought on by other drugs, such as ephedrine and cocaine. Agents that dampen the protein’s activity could be treatments for drug overdoses, they say.


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