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Neurotox Res. 2001 Jan;3(1):85-99.

Experimental studies on 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDA, "ecstasy") and its potential to damage brain serotonin neurons.

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Departments of Neurology and Psychiatry Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.


A number of drugs that fall into the broad category of "ring-substituted amphetamines" have been found to be neurotoxic toward brain monoamine neurons in animals. Several of these drugs, including 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, "Ecstasy") and methamphetamine ("speed") and fenfluramine ("Pondimin") have been used or abused by humans. A growing body of evidence indicates that humans, like animals, are susceptible to substituted amphetamine-induced neurotoxic injury, and that consequences of this injury can be subtle. This article will review the effects of ring-substituted amphetamine analogs on brain monoamine neurons, using MDMA as the prototype. Studies documenting MDMA neurotoxic potential toward brain serotonin (5-HT) neurons in animals are summarized first. Human MDMA studies are then discussed, beginning with a consideration of methodological challenges in evaluating the status of 5-HT neurons in the living human brain. Recent findings indicating possible functional alterations in brain serotonergic systems in humans with a history of extensive MDMA exposure are then presented, including some new findings on sleep and personality in abstinent MDMA users.


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