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BACKGROUND: The use of MDMA ('ecstasy') is common among young people in Western countries. Animal models of MDMA toxicity suggest a loss of serotonergic neurons, and potentially implicate in the development of significant psychiatric morbidity in humans. AIMS: To test whether long-term use of MDMA can produce abnormalities in cerebral serotonin, but not dopamine, transporter binding measured by single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). METHOD: Ten male regular ecstasy users and 10 well-matched controls recruited from the same community sources participated in SPECT with the serotonin transporter (SERT) ligand [123I] beta-CIT. Dopamine transporter binding was determined from scans acquired 23 hours after injection of the tracer. RESULTS: Ecstasy users showed a cortical reduction of SERT binding, particularly prominent in primary sensory-motor cortex, with normal dopamine transporter binding in lenticular nuclei. CONCLUSIONS: This cross-sectional association study provides suggestive evidence for specific, at least temporary, serotonergic neurotoxicity of MDMA in humans.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Psychiatry

Publication Date





63 - 69


Adolescent, Adult, Carrier Proteins, Case-Control Studies, Cerebral Cortex, Cross-Sectional Studies, Humans, Male, Membrane Glycoproteins, Membrane Transport Proteins, N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine, Nerve Tissue Proteins, Psychomotor Performance, Serotonin Agents, Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins, Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon