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Role of the 5-HT2A receptor in self- and other-initiated social interaction in LSD-induced states – a pharmacological fMRI study

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Distortions of self-experience are critical symptoms of psychiatric disorders and have detrimental effects on social interactions. In light of the immense need for improved and targeted interventions for social impairments, it is important to better understand the neurochemical substrates of social interaction abilities. We therefore investigated the pharmacological and neural correlates of self- and other-initiated social interaction. In a double-blind, randomized, counterbalanced, cross-over study 24 healthy human participants (18 males and 6 females) received either 1) placebo+placebo 2) placebo+lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) (100 μg p.o.), or 3) ketanserin (40 mg p.o.)+LSD (100 μg p.o.) at three different occasions. Participants took part in an interactive task using eye-tracking and functional magnetic resonance imaging completing trials of self- and other-initiated joint and non-joint attention. Results demonstrate first, that LSD reduced activity in brain areas important for self-processing, but also social cognition, second that change in brain activity was linked to subjective experience, and third that LSD decreased the efficiency of establishing joint attention. Furthermore, LSD-induced effects were blocked by the serotonin 2A receptor (5-HT2AR) antagonist ketanserin, indicating that effects of LSD are attributable to 5-HT2AR stimulation. The current results demonstrate that activity in areas of the ‘social brain’ can be modulated via the 5-HT2AR thereby pointing towards this system as a potential target for the treatment of social impairments associated with psychiatric disorders.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTDistortions of self-representation and, potentially related to this, dysfunctional social cognition are central hallmarks of various psychiatric disorders and critically impact disease development, progression, treatment, as well as real-world functioning. However, these deficits are insufficiently targeted by current treatment approaches. The administration of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in combination with functional magnetic resonance imaging and real-time eye-tracking offers the unique opportunity to study alterations in self-experience, their relation to social cognition, and the underlying neuropharmacology. Results demonstrate that LSD alters self-experience as well as basic social cognition processing in areas of the ‘social brain’. Furthermore, these alterations are attributable to 5-HT2A receptor stimulation, thereby pinpointing towards this receptor system in the development of pharmacotherapies for sociocognitive deficits in psychiatric disorders.
Preller, K. H., Schilbach, L., Pokorny, T., Flemming, J., Seifritz, E., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2018). Role of the 5-HT2A receptor in self-and other-initiated social interaction in LSD-induced states—a pharmacological fMRI study. Journal of Neuroscience, 1939-17. 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1939-17.2018
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