Research Article| Volume 56, ISSUE 5, P349-355, September 01, 2004

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Neural mechanisms of working memory in ecstasy (MDMA) users who continue or discontinue ecstasy and amphetamine use: Evidence from an 18-month longitudinal functional magnetic resonance imaging study


      Working memory processing in ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) users is associated with neural alterations as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging. Here, we examined whether cortical activation patterns change after prolonged periods of continued use or abstinence from ecstasy and amphetamine.


      We used an n-back task and functional magnetic resonance imaging in 17 ecstasy users at baseline (t1) and after 18 months (t2). Based on the reported drug use at t2 we separated subjects with continued ecstasy and amphetamine use from subjects reporting abstinence during the follow-up period (n = 9 and n = 8, respectively).


      At baseline both groups had similar task performance and similar cortical activation patterns. Task performance remained unchanged in both groups. Furthermore, there were no detectable functional magnetic resonance imaging signal changes from t1 to t2 in the follow-up abstinent group. However, the continuing users showed a dose-dependent increased parietal activation for the 2-back task after the follow-up period.


      Our data suggest that ecstasy use, particularly in high doses, is associated with greater parietal activation during working memory performance. An altered activation pattern might appear before changes in cognitive performance become apparent and, hence, may reflect an early stage of neuronal injury from the neurotoxic drug ecstasy.

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