Journal of Psychopharmacology 2008. e-published 17th July
Hasler F, Studerus E, Lindner K, Ludewig S, Vollenweider F
Abstract Serotonin (5-HT) release is the primary pharmacological mechanism of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, 'ecstasy') action in the primate brain. Dopamine release and direct stimulation of dopamine D2 and serotonin 5-HT2A receptors also contributes to the overall action of MDMA. The role of 5-HT1A receptors in the human psychopharmacology of MDMA, however, has not yet been elucidated. In order to reveal the consequences of manipulation at the 5-HT1A receptor system on cognitive and subjective effects of MDMA, a receptor blocking study using the mixed beta-adrenoreceptor blocker/5-HT1A antagonist pindolol was performed. Using a double-blind, placebo-controlled within-subject design, 15 healthy male subjects were examined under placebo (PL), 20 mg pindolol (PIN), MDMA (1.6 mg/kg b.wt.), MDMA following pre-treatment with pindolol (PIN-MDMA). Tasks from the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery were used for the assessment of cognitive performance. Psychometric questionnaires were applied to measure effects of treatment on core dimensions of Altered States of Consciousness, mood and state anxiety. Compared with PL, MDMA significantly impaired sustained attention and visual-spatial memory, but did not affect executive functions. Pre-treatment with PIN did not significantly alter MDMA-induced impairment of cognitive performance and only exerted a minor modulating effect on two psychometric scales affected by MDMA treatment ('positive derealization' and 'dreaminess'). Our findings suggest that MDMA differentially affects higher cognitive functions, but does not support the hypothesis from animal studies, that some of the MDMA effects are causally mediated through action at the 5-HT1A receptor system.