MDMA-induced indifference to negative sounds is mediated by the 5-HT2A receptor

K P C Kuypers*, R. de la Torre, M. Farre, N Pizarro, L Xicota, J G Ramaekers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: MDMA has been shown to induce feelings of sociability, a positive emotional bias and enhanced empathy. While previous research has used only visual emotional stimuli, communication entails more than that single dimension and it is known that auditory information is also crucial in this process. In addition, it is, however, unclear what the neurobiological mechanism underlying these MDMA effects on social behaviour is. Previously, studies have shown that MDMA-induced emotional excitability and positive mood are linked to the action on the serotonin (5-HT) 2A receptor.

AIM: The present study aimed at investigating the effect of MDMA on processing of sounds (Processing of Affective Sounds Task (PAST)) and cognitive biases (Approach-Avoidance Task (AAT)) towards emotional and social stimuli and the role of 5-HT2A receptor in these effects.

METHODS: Twenty healthy recreational users entered a 2 × 2, placebo-controlled, within-subject study with ketanserin (40 mg) as pre-treatment and MDMA (75 mg) as treatment. Behavioural (PAST, AAT) measures were conducted 90 min after treatment with MDMA, respectively, 120 min after ketanserin. Self-report mood measures and oxytocin concentrations were taken at baseline and before and after behavioural tests.

RESULTS: Findings showed that MDMA reduced arousal elicited by negative sounds. This effect was counteracted by ketanserin pre-treatment, indicating involvement of the 5-HT2 receptor in this process. MDMA did not seem to induce a bias towards emotional and social stimuli. It increased positive and negative mood ratings and elevated oxytocin plasma concentrations. The reduction in arousal levels when listening to negative sounds was not related to the elevated subjective arousal.

CONCLUSION: It is suggested that this decrease in arousal to negative stimuli reflects potentially a lowering of defences, a process that might play a role in the therapeutic process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-490
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Early online date1 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


  • Journal Article
  • Oxytocin
  • MDMA
  • 5-HT2A receptor
  • Arousal
  • Sound processing
  • Ketanserin
  • Cognitive bias

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