Serotonin transporter availability, neurocognitive function and their correlation in abstinent 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine users

Foke L. van de Blaak, Glenn J. H. Dumont

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Rationale: MDMA or Ecstasy has made a resurgence in popularity and the majority of users consist of teenagers and adolescents. Therefore, it is important to determine whether MDMA causes long-term damage and what this damage entails. There is an ongoing debate about possible neurocognitive changes in 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) users related to MDMA's neurotoxic potential. Multiple neuroimaging studies have shown that Ecstasy use leads to lower serotonin transporter (SERT) availability in multiple brain regions. This may express itself in a loss of cognitive functions like memory, attention and executive function. However, there is increasing evidence reporting that MDMA's induced serotonergic adaptations are reversible over time. The question we thus address is whether the recovery of SERT function predicts a recovery of cognitive function. Objectives: This review aims to investigate MDMA's long-term effects on SERT availability and cognitive functioning. Methods: A literature search was performed in PubMed. Studies that investigated the effects of MDMA on both SERT availability and cognitive performance were eligible for inclusion. Results: SERT availability positively correlated with time of abstinence, whereas memory performance did not show this correlation, but remained impaired in MDMA users. No significant correlation between SERT availability and memory function was found (r = 0.232, p = 0.581; r = 0.176, p = 0.677). Conclusions: The main findings of this review are that MDMA-use leads to an acute decrease in SERT availability and causes an impairment in cognitive functions, mostly memory. However, SERT availability recovers with sustained abstinence while memory function does not. This suggests that SERT availability is not a biomarker for MDMA-induced cognitive impairment and likely also not for MDMA-induced neurotoxicity.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2811
JournalHuman psychopharmacology
Issue number1
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • MDMA
  • SERT
  • abstinence
  • cognition
  • neurotoxicity

Cite this