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Serotonergic psychedelics temporarily modify information transfer in humans

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Background: Psychedelics induce intense modifications in the sensorium, the sense of “self,” and the experience of reality. Despite advances in our understanding of the molecular and cellular level mechanisms of these drugs, knowledge of their actions on global brain dynamics is still incomplete. Recent imaging studies have found changes in functional coupling between frontal and parietal brain structures, suggesting a modification in information flow between brain regions during acute effects.

Methods: here we assessed the psychedelic-induced changes in directionality of information flow during the acute effects of a psychedelic in humans. We measured modifications in connectivity of brain oscillations using transfer entropy (TE), a non-linear measure of directed functional connectivity based on information theory. Ten healthy male volunteers with prior experience with psychedelics participated in two experimental sessions. They received a placebo or a dose of ayahuasca, a psychedelic preparation containing the serotonergic 5-HT2A agonist N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT).

Results: the analysis showed significant changes in the coupling of brain oscillations between anterior and posterior recording sites. TE analysis showed that frontal sources decreased their influence over central, parietal and occipital sites. Conversely, sources in posterior locations increased their influence over signals measured at anterior locations. Exploratory correlations found that anterior-to-posterior TE decreases were correlated with the intensity of subjective effects, while the imbalance between anterior-to-posterior and posterior-to-anterior TE correlated with the degree of incapacitation experienced.

Conclusions: these results suggest that psychedelics induce a temporary disruption of neural hierarchies by reducing top-down control and increasing bottom-up information transfer in the human brain.

Alonso, J. F., Romero, S., Mañanas, M. À., & Riba, J. (2015). Serotonergic psychedelics temporarily modify information transfer in humans. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.
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