The Pharmacokinetic Profile of Synthetic Cathinones in a Pregnancy Model

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In recent years, the abuse of synthetic cathinones or ‘bath salts’ has become a major public health concern. Although these compounds were initially sold legally and labeled “not for human consumption”, the ‘bath salts’ are psychostimulants, with similar structures and pharmacologic mechanisms to cocaine, the amphetamines, and 3,4 methylendioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, Molly, or Ecstasy). The reported use of these substances by women of child-bearing age highlights the necessity of studies seeking to delineate risks of prenatal exposure. Three popular drugs of this type are methylone, mephedrone, and 3, 4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). Unfortunately, there is currently no information available on the teratogenicity of these compounds, or of the extent to which they cross the placenta. As such, the purpose of this study was to examine the pharmacokinetic profile of the ‘bath salts’ in a pregnancy model. Pregnant mice (E17.5 gestation) were injected intraperitoneally with a cocktail of 5mg/kg methylone, 10mg/kg mephedrone, and 3mg/kg (MDPV) dissolved in sterile saline. Maternal brain, maternal plasma, placenta, and fetal brain were collected at 30s, 1min, 5min, 10min, 15min, 30min, 1h, 2h, 4h, and 8h following injection. Methylone, mephedrone, and MDPV were extracted from tissue by solid phase extraction, and concentrations were determined using a previously validated liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) method. Interestingly, all 3 cathinones reached measurable concentrations in the placenta, as well as the fetal brain; in fact, for MDPV, the maximal concentration (Cmax) was highest in fetal brain, while mephedrone's highest Cmax value was achieved in placenta. Additionally, the total drug exposure for all 3 compounds (as represented by area under the curve, AUC) was higher in fetal matrices (placenta and fetal brain) than in maternal matrices (maternal brain and plasma), and the half-lives for the drugs were longer. Given the extensive presence of methylone, mephedrone, and MDPV in the fetal brain following prenatal exposure, fetal risk is definitely a concern. As there are currently no prenatal studies available on the teratogenicity of these agents, pregnant patients should be informed about the potential risks that these substances may have.