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5-HTTLPR Genotype Moderates the Effects of Past Ecstasy Use on Verbal Memory Performance in Adolescent and Emerging Adults: A Pilot Study

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OBJECTIVE: Ecstasy use is associated with memory deficits. Serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) polymorphisms have been linked with memory function in healthy samples. The present pilot study investigated the influence of 5-HTTLPR polymorphisms on memory performance in ecstasy users, marijuana-using controls, and non-drug-using controls, after a minimum of 7 days of abstinence.

METHOD: Data were collected from 116 young adults (18-25 years-old), including 45 controls, 42 marijuana users, and 29 ecstasy users, and were balanced for 5-HTTLPR genotype. Participants were abstinent seven days prior to completing memory testing. Three MANCOVAs and one ANCOVA were run to examine whether drug group, 5-HTTLPR genotype, and their interactions predicted verbal and visual memory after controlling for gender, past year alcohol use, other drug use, and nicotine cotinine levels.

RESULTS: MANCOVA and ANCOVA analysis revealed a significant interaction between drug group and genotype (p = .03) such that ecstasy users with the L/L genotype performed significantly worse on CVLT-2 total recall (p = .05), short (p = .008) and long delay free recall (p = .01), and recognition (p = .006), with the reverse pattern found in controls. Ecstasy did not significantly predict visual memory. 5-HTTLPR genotype significantly predicted memory for faces (p = .02); short allele carriers performed better than those with L/L genotype.

CONCLUSIONS: 5-HTTLPR genotype moderated the effects of ecstasy on verbal memory, with L/L carriers performing worse compared to controls. Future research should continue to examine individual differences in ecstasy’s impact on neurocognitive performance as well as relationships with neuronal structure. Additional screening and prevention efforts focused on adolescents and emerging adults are necessary to prevent ecstasy consumption.

Wright, N. E., Strong, J. A., Gilbart, E. R., Shollenbarger, S. G., & Lisdahl, K. M. (2015). 5-HTTLPR Genotype Moderates the Effects of Past Ecstasy Use on Verbal Memory Performance in Adolescent and Emerging Adults: A Pilot Study. PloS one, 10(7), e0134708.

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