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The Neurobiology of Ecstasy (MDMA)

4: Ecstasy and serotonin transporters

Illustration of Serotonin neuron showing free serotonin being blocked from transporter by ecstasy

When ecstasy binds to the serotonin transporters, more serotonin ends up in the synaptic space. This occurs for two reasons. First, ecstasy can prevent the transporters from carrying serotonin back into the terminal. Second, ecstasy can cause the transporters to work in reverse mode-- they actually bring serotonin from the terminal into the synaptic space. So, more serotonin is present in the synaptic space and more serotonin receptors become activated. This is the major short-term effect of ecstasy that alters brain chemistry. Although the serotonin system is the primary target for ecstasy, ecstasy has similar effects on the dopamine (another neurotranmsitter) system as well. ecstasy can inhibit dopamine transporters and cause an increase in dopamine levels in the synaptic space (not shown here). To help students understand how the alteration in brain chemistry results in psychological changes, go to the next image.

This page was last updated January 2007

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National Institute of Drug Abuse (2007). 4: Ecstasy and serotonin transporters. In The Neurobiology of Ecstasy (MDMA). Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/neurobiology-ecstasy/section-ii/4-ecstasy-serotonin-transporters

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