Neuroimaging of chronic MDMA (“ecstasy”) effects: A meta-analysis

Felix Müller, Raphael Brändle, Matthias E. Liechti, Stefan Borgwardt*

*Corresponding author for this work
23 Citations (Scopus)


In this meta-analysis, we aimed to assess the evidence from neuroimaging studies for chronic alterations in the brains of MDMA users. The databases PubMed, Embase, and Web of Science were searched for studies published from inception to August 24, 2018, without any language restriction. Sixteen independent studies comprising 356 MDMA users and 311 controls were included. Of these, five studies investigated frontal and occipital N-acetylaspartate/creatine and myo-inositol/creatine ratios, three studies assessed basal ganglia blood flow and ten studies investigated serotonin transporter (SERT) density in various regions. We found significantly decreased SERT density in eight of 13 investigated regions. Meta-regression indicated a positive association with abstinence, but none with lifetime episodes of use. Therefore, other variables (such as doses taken per occasion) might be more important determinants. Positive associations between time of abstinence and SERT density might indicate that these alterations are reversible to some extent. Furthermore, there were no significant differences between user and control groups in terms of neurochemical ratios in the frontal and occipital lobes and blood flow in the basal ganglia. Overall, MDMA user groups showed heavy use patterns and study quality was poor.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Pages (from-to)10-20
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 01.2019


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