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The Neurobiology of Ecstasy (MDMA)

1: How does ecstasy work: serotonin pathways in the brain

Illustration of Serotonin pathways in the brain

The nerve pathway that is predominantly affected by ecstasy is called the serotonin pathway. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is synthesized, stored, and released by specific neurons in this pathway. It is involved in the regulation of several processes within the brain, including mood, emotions, aggression, sleep, appetite, anxiety, memory, and perceptions. Tell the students that you will show them how a chemical like serotonin can regulate these processes. First, describe how serotonin pathways innervate (connect to) different brain regions. Point to the cell bodies of the serotonin pathway that are located in the brainstem area "the Raphe nucleus" in pink). Show students how these neurons send long axons to higher centers in the brain including the neocortex (yellow) and the limbic system (e.g., the amygdala--red and hippocampus--blue). Point to a second pathway for serotonin neurons that descends down the spinal cord; these neurons control muscle activity; tell the students that you will talk about this in more detail in a few minutes. Indicate that the function of serotonin depends on the region of the brain into which it is released (it also depends on the type of serotonin receptor present in that region--see discussion in image 9). For example, the serotonin neurons in the neocortex in the front of the brain (frontal cortex) regulate cognition, memory, and perceptions. The serotonin neurons in the hippocampus regulate memory. The serotonin neurons in other limbic areas such as the amygdala also regulate mood.

This page was last updated January 2007

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