Functional MRI study of working memory in MDMA users

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2004 Dec;177(1-2):185-94. doi: 10.1007/s00213-004-1908-5. Epub 2004 Jun 18.


Rationale: Methylene-dioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is known to cause degeneration of serotonin nerve terminals after acute doses in animals. Similarly, behavioral studies in human MDMA users regularly find abnormalities in memory, mood, and impulse control. However, studies of brain function using brain imaging in MDMA users have been less consistent.

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to determine, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), whether individuals with a self-reported history of MDMA use would differ from non-MDMA using controls on activation while performing a working memory task.

Methods: Fifteen MDMA using subjects and 19 non-MDMA using controls underwent fMRI scanning while performing the immediate and delayed memory task (IMT/DMT). The study was based on a block design in which the delayed memory task (DMT) alternated with the immediate memory task (IMT), which served as a control condition. FMRI scans were acquired on a 1.5 T scanner, using a gradient echo echoplanar pulse sequence.

Results: Random effects SPM99 analysis showed significantly greater activation (whole volume corrected cluster P<0.05) during the DMT relative to the IMT in the MDMA subjects compared with the control subjects in the medial superior frontal gyrus, in the thalamus extending into putamen, and in the hippocampus.

Conclusions: Although these effects could be due to other drugs used by MDMA users, these results are consistent with behavioral problems that are associated with MDMA use, and with animal studies on the effects of MDMA on brain function.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Memory / physiology*
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine* / adverse effects
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*


  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine