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J Cogn Neurosci. 2005 Oct;17(10):1497-508.

Using psilocybin to investigate the relationship between attention, working memory, and the serotonin 1A and 2A receptors.

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  • 1University of Queensland, Australia.


Increasing evidence suggests a link between attention, working memory, serotonin (5-HT), and prefrontal cortex activity. In an attempt to tease out the relationship between these elements, this study tested the effects of the hallucinogenic mixed 5-HT1A/2A receptor agonist psilocybin alone and after pretreatment with the 5-HT2A antagonist ketanserin. Eight healthy human volunteers were tested on a multiple-object tracking task and spatial working memory task under the four conditions: placebo, psilocybin (215 microg/kg), ketanserin (50 mg), and psilocybin and ketanserin. Psilocybin significantly reduced attentional tracking ability, but had no significant effect on spatial working memory, suggesting a functional dissociation between the two tasks. Pretreatment with ketanserin did not attenuate the effect of psilocybin on attentional performance, suggesting a primary involvement of the 5-HT1A receptor in the observed deficit. Based on physiological and pharmacological data, we speculate that this impaired attentional performance may reflect a reduced ability to suppress or ignore distracting stimuli rather than reduced attentional capacity. The clinical relevance of these results is also discussed.

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