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Ecstasy may trigger gene linked depression

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Ecstasy may trigger gene-linked depression
12 March 2005

IF YOU have a family history of depression, you should probably think twice about taking ecstasy. The drug appears to trigger depression in people with a genetic susceptibility to the condition.

Ecstasy tricks neurons into dumping large quantities of the mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin into the brain. It is thought to work by causing serotonin transporters to reverse direction, pumping serotonin out of neurons instead of sucking it back in.

There are two versions of the serotonin transporter gene, long and short. The short version has already been associated with depression brought on by stressful events. David Rubinsztein and colleagues at the University of Cambridge wanted to know whether there might be a similar link with ecstasy use.

They studied 66 chronic ecstasy users, 30 cannabis smokers and 28 people who had never used illicit drugs. This revealed that of the people with two copies of the short gene, ecstasy users were much more likely than cannabis smokers and abstainers to suffer from clinical depression (American Journal of Psychiatry, vol 162, p 609). This raises the possibility that studies of the risks from ecstasy use underestimate the danger for some individuals, Rubinsztein says.

From issue 2490 of New Scientist magazine, 12 March 2005, page 5

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