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Memory deficits and altered hippocampal function in ecstasy (MDMA) users: evidence from neuropsychological, functional imaging (fMRI) and MR-spectroscopy studies
Ecstasy (methylendioxyamphetamines) is a group of popular recreational drugs with known neurotoxic potential upon central serotonergic and possibly also upon dopaminergic systems. Previous studies reported cognitive deficits in currently abstinent ecstasy users with subtle deficits of memory and learning being the most consistent findings. In this paper, we present findings from our own studies which demonstrate memory decrements, but otherwise relatively undisturbed cognitive performance in ecstasy users. These data suggest that the hippocampus might be more vulnerable to the neurotoxic actions of ecstasy than other brain regions. Based on this finding, we conducted an fMRI experiment with an activation task for associative learning and a proton MR-spectroscopy study. Ecstasy users showed diminished hippocampal activation and a tendency towards decreased NAA/Cho ratio in the hippocampus, but not in the occipital and frontal cortex. These findings support the view of the hippocampus being a critical target of ecstasy-induced neurotoxicity.
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