3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, 'ecstasy') releases serotonin and norepinephrine. MDMA is reported to produce empathogenic and prosocial feelings. It is unknown whether MDMA in fact alters empathic concern and prosocial behavior. We investigated the acute effects of MDMA using the Multifaceted Empathy Test (MET), dynamic Face Emotion Recognition Task (FERT) and Social Value Orientation (SVO) test. We also assessed effects of MDMA on plasma levels of hormones involved in social behavior using a placebo-controlled, double-blind, random-order, cross-over design in 32 healthy volunteers (16 women). MDMA enhanced explicit and implicit emotional empathy in the MET and increased prosocial behavior in the SVO test in men. MDMA did not alter cognitive empathy in the MET but impaired the identification of negative emotions, including fearful, angry and sad faces, in the FERT, particularly in women. MDMA increased plasma levels of cortisol and prolactin, which are markers of serotonergic and noradrenergic activity, and of oxytocin, which has been associated with prosocial behavior. In summary, MDMA sex-specifically altered the recognition of emotions, emotional empathy and prosociality. These effects likely enhance sociability when MDMA is used recreationally and may be useful when MDMA is administered in conjunction with psychotherapy in patients with social dysfunction or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Background:Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) has agonist activity at various serotonin (5-HT) and dopamine receptors. Despite the therapeutic and scientific interest in LSD, specific receptor contributions to its neurobiological effects remain unknown. Methods: We therefore conducted a double-blind, randomized, counterbalanced, cross-over study (ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT02451072) during which 24 healthy human participants received either (i) placebo+placebo, (ii) placebo+LSD (100 µg po), or (iii) Ketanserin, a selective 5-HT2A receptor antagonist,+LSD. We quantified resting-state functional connectivity via a data-driven global brain connectivity method and compared it to cortical gene expression maps. Findings: LSD reduced associative, but concurrently increased sensory-somatomotor brain-wide and thalamic connectivity. Ketanserin fully blocked the subjective and neural LSD effects. Whole-brain spatial patterns of LSD effects matched 5-HT2A receptor cortical gene expression in humans. Conclusion: Together, these results strongly implicate the 5-HT2A receptor in LSD’s neuropharmacology. This study therefore pinpoints the critical role of 5-HT2A in LSD’s mechanism, which informs its neurobiology and guides rational development of psychedelic-based therapeutics. Funding: Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF, P2ZHP1_161626, KHP), the Swiss Neuromatrix Foundation (2015 – 0103, FXV), the Usona Institute (2015 – 2056, FXV), the NIH (R01MH112746, JDM; DP5OD012109, AA; R01MH108590, AA), the NIAA ( P50AA012870-16, AA & JHK), the NARSAD Independent Investigator Grant (AA), the Yale CTSA grant (UL1TR000142 Pilot Award, AA), and the Slovenian Research Agency (ARRS J7-6829 & ARRS J7-8275, GR).
A core aspect of the human self is the attribution of personal relevance to everyday stimuli enabling us to experience our environment as meaningful . However, abnormalities in the attribution of personal relevance to sensory experiences are also critical features of many psychiatric disorders [2,3]. Despite their clinical relevance, the neurochemical and anatomical substrates enabling meaningful experiences are largely unknown. Therefore, we investigated the neuropharmacology of personal relevance processing in humans by combining fMRI and the administration of the mixed serotonin (5-HT) and dopamine receptor (R) agonist lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), well known to alter the subjective meaning of percepts, with and without pretreatment with the 5-HT2AR antagonist ketanserin. General subjective LSD effects were fully blocked by ketanserin. In addition, ketanserin inhibited the LSD-induced attribution of personal relevance to previously meaningless stimuli and modulated the processing of meaningful stimuli in cortical midline structures. These findings point to the crucial role of the 5-HT2AR subtype and cortical midline regions in the generation and attribution of personal relevance. Our results thus increase our mechanistic understanding of personal relevance processing and reveal potential targets for the treatment of psychiatric illnesses characterized by alterations in personal relevance attribution.
SummaryA core aspect of the human self is the attribution of personal relevance to everyday stimuli
Classic serotonergic hallucinogens or psychedelics produce an altered states of consciousness (ASC) that is characterized by profound alterations in sensory perception, mood, thought including the perception of reality, and the sense of self. Over the past years, there has been considerable progress in the search for invariant and common features of psychedelic states. In the first part of this review, we outline contemporary approaches to characterize the structure of ASCs by means of three primary etiology-independent dimensions including oceanic boundlessness, anxious ego-dissolution, and visionary restructuralization as well as by 11 lower-order factors, all of which can be reliably measured by the altered state of consciousness questionnaire (APZ-OAV). The second part sheds light on the dynamic nature of psychedelic experiences. Frequently, psychedelic subjects progress through different stages over time and levels of changes along a perception-hallucination continuum of increasing arousal and ego-dissolution. We then review in detail the acute effects of psychedelics on sensory perception, emotion, cognition, creativity, and time perception along with possible neural mechanisms underlying them. The next part of this review outlines the influence of non-pharmacological factors (predictors) on the acute psychedelic experience, such as demographics, genetics, personality, mood, and setting, and also discusses some long-term effects succeeding the acute experience. The last part presents some recent concepts and models attempting to understand different facets of psychedelic states of consciousness from a neuroscientific perspective.
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