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Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2003 May;16(3):479-87.

Cerebral activation in abstinent ecstasy (MDMA) users during a working memory task: a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Medical Faculty of the University of Technology (RWTH), Pauwelsstrasse 30, D-52074 Aachen, Germany.


The popular recreational drug ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine=MDMA and related congeners) is neurotoxic upon central serotonergic systems in animal studies. So far, the most convincing evidence for neurotoxicity-related functional deficits in humans derives from neurocognitive studies demonstrating dose-related long-term learning and memory problems in ecstasy users. In our study we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a working memory task to investigate cerebral activation in eleven heavy, but currently abstinent MDMA users and two equally sized groups of moderate users and non-users. There were no significant group differences in working memory performance and no differences in cortical activation patterns for a conservative level of significance. However, for a more liberal statistical criterion, both user groups showed stronger activations than controls in right parietal cortex. Furthermore, heavy users had a weaker blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) response than moderate users and controls in frontal and temporal areas. Our results may indicate subtle altered brain functioning associated with prior MDMA use, although alternative interpretations of these group differences must be considered.

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