MDMA, serotonergic neurotoxicity, and the diverse functional deficits of recreational ‘Ecstasy’ users

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Abstract

Serotonergic neurotoxicity following MDMA is well-established in laboratory animals, and neuroimaging studies have found lower serotonin transporter (SERT) binding in abstinent Ecstasy/MDMA users. Serotonin is a modulator for many different psychobiological functions, and this review will summarize the evidence for equivalent functional deficits in recreational users. Declarative memory, prospective memory, and higher cognitive skills are often impaired. Neurocognitive deficits are associated with reduced SERT in the hippocampus, parietal cortex, and prefrontal cortex. EEG and ERP studies have shown localised reductions in brain activity during neurocognitive performance. Deficits in sleep, mood, vision, pain, psychomotor skill, tremor, neurohormonal activity, and psychiatric status, have also been demonstrated. The children of mothers who take Ecstasy/MDMA during pregnancy have developmental problems. These psychobiological deficits are wide-ranging, and occur in functions known to be modulated by serotonin. They are often related to lifetime dosage, with light users showing slight changes, and heavy users displaying more pronounced problems. In summary, abstinent Ecstasy/MDMA users can show deficits in a wide range of biobehavioral functions with a serotonergic component.

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