Positron emission tomographic evidence of toxic effect of MDMA (“Ecstasy”) on brain serotonin neurons in human beings.

3.4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, ‘Ecstasy”) is a popular recreational drug that selectively damages brain serotonin (5-HT) neurons in animals at doses that closely approach those used by humans. We investigated the status of brain 5-HT neurons in MDMA users.

The study enrolled 14 previous users of MDMA who were currently abstaining from use and 15 controls who had never used MDMA. It used positron emission tomography (PET) with the radioligand carbon-11-labelled McN-5652, which selectively labels the 5-NT transporter. It analysed whether there were differences in 5-HT transporter binding between abstinent MDMA users and participants in the control group. Blood and urine samples were taken and tested to check for abstinence.

MDMA users showed decreased global and regional brain 5-HT transporter binding compared with controls. Decreases in 5-HT transporter binding positively correlated with the extent of previous MDMA use.

Quantitative PET studies with a ligand selective for 5-HT transporters can be used to assess the status of 5-HT neurons in the living human brain. The study shows direct evidence of a decrease in a structural component of brain 5-NT neurons in human MDMA users.

Source: U D McCann, Z Szabo, U Scheffel, R F Dannals, GA Ricaurte – Biological Psychiatry Branch, National Institute of Mental Health,- Bethesda, Maryland, USA (U D McCann MD); and Departments of Radiology (Z Szabo MD, U Scheffel ScD, R F Dannals PhD) and Neurology (G A Ricaurte MD), Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA – published: The Lancet Vol 352, Oct 98. (Correspondence to: Dr G A Ricaurte)

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