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Br J Psychiatry. 2008 Oct;193(4):289-96. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.106.035089.

Neurotoxic effects of ecstasy on the thalamus.

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  • 1Department of Radiology, University of Amsterdam, Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.



Neurotoxic effects of ecstasy have been reported, although it remains unclear whether effects can be attributed to ecstasy, other recreational drugs or a combination of these.


To assess specific/independent neurotoxic effects of heavy ecstasy use and contributions of amphetamine, cocaine and cannabis as part of The Netherlands XTC Toxicity (NeXT) study.


Effects of ecstasy and other substances were assessed with (1)H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy, diffusion tensor imaging, perfusion weighted imaging and [(123)I]2beta-carbomethoxy-3beta-(4-iodophenyl)-tropane ([(123)I]beta-CIT) single photon emission computed tomography (serotonin transporters) in a sample (n=71) with broad variation in drug use, using multiple regression analyses.


Ecstasy showed specific effects in the thalamus with decreased [(123)I]beta-CIT binding, suggesting serotonergic axonal damage; decreased fractional anisotropy, suggesting axonal loss; and increased cerebral blood volume probably caused by serotonin depletion. Ecstasy had no effect on brain metabolites and apparent diffusion coefficients.


Converging evidence was found for a specific toxic effect of ecstasy on serotonergic axons in the thalamus.

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