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NIDA

The Neurobiology of Ecstasy (MDMA)

2: The serotonin neuron: the major target of ecstasy

Illustration of a serotonin neuron

In order to help students understand how ecstasy affects the function of serotonin neurons, it will be useful to review how neurotransmission takes place in a little more detail. You can explain serotonin neurotransmission as an example (serotonin is one of many neurotransmitters). This image shows the connection between two neurons (the "synapse"). Serotonin is stored in small vesicles within the nerve terminal of a neuron. Electrical impulses (arising in the Raphe nucleus, for example) traveling down the axon toward the terminal cause the release of serotonin from small vesicles into the synaptic space. Point to the space between the terminal and the neighboring neuron. When in the synaptic space, the serotonin binds to special proteins, called receptors, on the membrane of a neighboring neuron (this is usually at a dendrite or cell body). When serotonin binds to serotonin receptors (there are actually at least 14 types of serotonin receptors), it causes a change in the electrical properties of the receiving neuron that generally results in a decrease in its firing rate. Go to the next image to explain how the action of serotonin is terminated.

This page was last updated January 2007

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