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Human Ecstasy Use Ups Serotonin2A Receptor Density

Serotonin2A receptor levels tied to lifetime ecstasy use; do not decrease with abstinence

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Use of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or ecstasy) is associated with long-lasting increases in serotonin2A receptor levels, which do not decrease with abstinence, according to a study published online Dec. 5 in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Christina R. Di Iorio, from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and colleagues investigated whether MDMA use was associated with increased serotonin2A receptor levels, reflecting chronic reductions in serotonin signaling in the cerebral cortex of women. Serotonin2A receptor levels were assessed in 14 abstinent female MDMA polydrug users and 10 controls (nonusers of MDMA). In cases, abstinence from MDMA use for at least 90 days was confirmed by hair sample analysis. Serotonin2A-specific positron emission tomography was used to assess serotonin2A receptor levels. Cortical serotonin2A receptor nondisplaceable binding potential (serotonin2ABPND) was the main outcome measured.

The investigators found significantly increased serotonin2ABPND in occipital-parietal, temporal, occipito-temporal-parietal, frontal, and fronto-parietal regions in 19.7, 20.5, 18.3, 16.6, and 18.5 percent of MDMA users, respectively. A significant, positive correlation was found between lifetime MDMA use and serotonin2ABPND in frontoparietal, occipitotemporal, frontolimbic, and frontal regions. No brain region showed an inverse association of MDMA use with receptor levels. The duration of MDMA abstinence had no significant effects on serotonin2ABPND.

"Serotonin2A receptor levels correlate positively with lifetime MDMA use and do not decrease with abstinence. These results suggest that MDMA use produces chronic serotonin neurotoxicity in humans," the authors write. "These results have critical public health implications."

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