Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Analysis of Persistent CNS Toxicity in Human MDMA (Ecstasy) Users

This project seeks to develop objective measures of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), also known as Ecstasy, toxicity in human subjects so that dose-related toxicity can be quantified and potential treatment interventions might be monitored. Evidence from animal studies indicates that MDMA destroys fine-diameter serotonergic axons that arise from brainstem serotonergic neuron groups. Serotonin is important in a wide variety of brain functions including mood, memory, movement, eating, sleeping, pain, and sexual function. 

Our work to date has revealed:

  • That MDMA use is associated with reduced gray mattter concentration in widespread brain regions, including the anterior cingulate gyrus and cerebellum.
  • That lifetime episodes of MDMA use are positively correlated with the spatial extent of light-evoked activation in visual cortices.
  • That lifetime episodes of MDMA use are positively correlated with the spatial extent and intensity of motor task-evoked activation in basal-ganglia thalamocortical brain regions.
  • That lifetime episodes of MDMA use are negatively correlated with the intensity of activation in some semantic brain regions during semantic recognition.
  • That MDMA use is not associated with altered levels of N-acetylaspartate (a neuronal marker). 

The current phase of this project uses functional MRI to investigate attention and cognitive processing and diffusion tensor imaging to investigate white matter integrity in MDMA users.  All our work to date has examined MDMA effects in cohorts of 18-35 year olds who do not have psychiatric co-morbidity.  Future phases of our research will investigate MDMA effects on cognitive performance and white matter structure.