OPEN Foundation

E. Seifritz

Psilocybin exerts distinct effects on resting state networks associated with serotonin and dopamine in mice

Abstract

Hallucinogenic agents have been proposed as potent antidepressants; this includes the serotonin (5-HT) receptor 2A agonist psilocybin. In human subjects, psilocybin alters functional connectivity (FC) within the default-mode network (DMN), a constellation of inter-connected regions that displays altered FC in depressive disorders. In this study, we investigated the effects of psilocybin on FC across the entire brain with a view to investigate underlying mechanisms. Psilocybin effects were investigated in lightly-anaesthetized mice using resting-state fMRI. Dual-regression analysis identified reduced FC within the ventral striatum in psilocybin- relative to vehicle-treated mice. Refinement of the analysis using spatial references derived from both gene expression maps and viral tracer projection fields revealed two distinct effects of psilocybin: it increased FC between 5-HT-associated networks and cortical areas, including elements of the murine DMN, thalamus, and midbrain; it decreased FC within dopamine (DA)-associated striatal networks. These results suggest that interactions between 5-HT- and DA-regulated neural networks contribute to the neural and therefore psychological effects of psilocybin. Furthermore, they highlight how information on molecular expression patterns and structural connectivity can assist in the interpretation of pharmaco-fMRI findings.

Grandjean, J., Buehlmann, D., Buerge, M., Sigrist, H., Seifritz, E., Vollenweider, F. X., Pryce, C. R., & Rudin, M. (2021). Psilocybin exerts distinct effects on resting state networks associated with serotonin and dopamine in mice. NeuroImage, 225, 117456. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.117456

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Psilocybin exerts distinct effects on resting state networks associated with serotonin and dopamine in mice

Abstract

Hallucinogenic agents have been proposed as potent antidepressants; this includes the serotonin (5-HT) receptor 2A agonist psilocybin. In human subjects, psilocybin alters functional connectivity (FC) within the default-mode network (DMN), a constellation of inter-connected regions that displays altered FC in depressive disorders. In this study, we investigated the effects of psilocybin on FC across the entire brain with a view to investigate underlying mechanisms. Psilocybin effects were investigated in lightly-anaesthetized mice using resting-state fMRI. Dual-regression analysis identified reduced FC within the ventral striatum in psilocybin- relative to vehicle-treated mice. Refinement of the analysis using spatial references derived from both gene expression maps and viral tracer projection fields revealed two distinct effects of psilocybin: it increased FC between 5-HT-associated networks and cortical areas, including elements of the murine DMN, thalamus, and midbrain; it decreased FC within dopamine (DA)-associated striatal networks. These results suggest that interactions between 5-HT- and DA-regulated neural networks contribute to the neural and therefore psychological effects of psilocybin. Furthermore, they highlight how information on molecular expression patterns and structural connectivity can assist in the interpretation of pharmaco-fMRI findings.

Grandjean, J., Buehlmann, D., Buerge, M., Sigrist, H., Seifritz, E., Vollenweider, F. X., Pryce, C. R., & Rudin, M. (2021). Psilocybin exerts distinct effects on resting state networks associated with serotonin and dopamine in mice. NeuroImage, 225, 117456. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.117456

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Psilocybin modulates functional connectivity of the amygdala during emotional face discrimination

Abstract

Recent studies suggest that the antidepressant effects of the psychedelic 5-HT2A receptor agonist psilocybin are mediated through its modulatory properties on prefrontal and limbic brain regions including the amygdala. To further investigate the effects of psilocybin on emotion processing networks, we studied for the first-time psilocybin’s acute effects on amygdala seed-to-voxel connectivity in an event-related face discrimination task in 18 healthy volunteers who received psilocybin and placebo in a double-blind balanced cross-over design. The amygdala has been implicated as a salience detector especially involved in the immediate response to emotional face content. We used beta-series amygdala seed-to-voxel connectivity during an emotional face discrimination task to elucidate the connectivity pattern of the amygdala over the entire brain.

When we compared psilocybin to placebo, an increase in reaction time for all three categories of affective stimuli was found. Psilocybin decreased the connectivity between amygdala and the striatum during angry face discrimination. During happy face discrimination, the connectivity between the amygdala and the frontal pole was decreased. No effect was seen during discrimination of fearful faces. Thus, we show psilocybin’s effect as a modulator of major connectivity hubs of the amygdala. Psilocybin decreases the connectivity between important nodes linked to emotion processing like the frontal pole or the striatum. Future studies are needed to clarify whether connectivity changes predict therapeutic effects in psychiatric patients.

Grimm, O., Kraehenmann, R., Preller, K. H., Seifritz, E., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2018). Psilocybin modulates functional connectivity of the amygdala during emotional face discrimination. European Neuropsychopharmacology. 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2018.03.016
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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

Abstract

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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Novel Psychoactive Substances—Recent Progress on Neuropharmacological Mechanisms of Action for Selected Drugs

Abstract

A feature of human culture is that we can learn to consume chemical compounds, derived from natural plants or synthetic fabrication, for their psychoactive effects. These drugs change the mental state and/or the behavioral performance of an individual and can be instrumentalized for various purposes. After the emergence of a novel psychoactive substance (NPS) and a period of experimental consumption, personal and medical benefits and harm potential of the NPS can be estimated on evidence base. This may lead to a legal classification of the NPS, which may range from limited medical use, controlled availability up to a complete ban of the drug form publically accepted use. With these measures, however, a drug does not disappear, but frequently continues to be used, which eventually allows an even better estimate of the drug’s properties. Thus, only in rare cases, there is a final verdict that is no more questioned. Instead, the view on a drug can change from tolerable to harmful but may also involve the new establishment of a desired medical application to a previously harmful drug. Here, we provide a summary review on a number of NPS for which the neuropharmacological evaluation has made important progress in recent years. They include mitragynine (“Kratom”), synthetic cannabinoids (e.g., “Spice”), dimethyltryptamine and novel serotonergic hallucinogens, the cathinones mephedrone and methylone, ketamine and novel dissociative drugs, γ-hydroxybutyrate, γ-butyrolactone, and 1,4-butanediol. This review shows not only emerging harm potentials but also some potential medical applications.
Hassan, Z., Bosch, O. G., Singh, D., Narayanan, S., Kasinather, B. V., Seifritz, E., … & Müller, C. P. (2017). Novel Psychoactive Substances—Recent Progress on Neuropharmacological Mechanisms of Action for Selected Drugs. Frontiers in psychiatry8, 152. 10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00152
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Dreamlike effects of LSD on waking imagery in humans depend on serotonin 2A receptor activation

Abstract

RATIONALE:
Accumulating evidence indicates that the mixed serotonin and dopamine receptor agonist lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) induces an altered state of consciousness that resembles dreaming.
OBJECTIVES:
This study aimed to test the hypotheses that LSD produces dreamlike waking imagery and that this imagery depends on 5-HT2A receptor activation and is related to subjective drug effects.
METHODS:
Twenty-five healthy subjects performed an audiorecorded guided mental imagery task 7 h after drug administration during three drug conditions: placebo, LSD (100 mcg orally) and LSD together with the 5-HT2A receptor antagonist ketanserin (40 mg orally). Cognitive bizarreness of guided mental imagery reports was quantified as a standardised formal measure of dream mentation. State of consciousness was evaluated using the Altered State of Consciousness (5D-ASC) questionnaire.
RESULTS:
LSD, compared with placebo, significantly increased cognitive bizarreness (p < 0.001). The LSD-induced increase in cognitive bizarreness was positively correlated with the LSD-induced loss of self-boundaries and cognitive control (p < 0.05). Both LSD-induced increases in cognitive bizarreness and changes in state of consciousness were fully blocked by ketanserin.
CONCLUSIONS:
LSD produced mental imagery similar to dreaming, primarily via activation of the 5-HT2A receptor and in relation to loss of self-boundaries and cognitive control. Future psychopharmacological studies should assess the differential contribution of the D2/D1 and 5-HT1A receptors to cognitive bizarreness.
Kraehenmann, R., Pokorny, D., Vollenweider, L., Preller, K. H., Pokorny, T., Seifritz, E., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2017). Dreamlike effects of LSD on waking imagery in humans depend on serotonin 2A receptor activation. Psychopharmacology, 1-16. 10.1007/s00213-017-4610-0
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Effects of serotonin 2A/1A receptor stimulation on social exclusion processing

Abstract

Social ties are crucial for physical and mental health. However, psychiatric patients frequently encounter social rejection. Moreover, an increased reactivity to social exclusion influences the development, progression, and treatment of various psychiatric disorders. Nevertheless, the neuromodulatory substrates of rejection experiences are largely unknown. The preferential serotonin (5-HT) 2A/1A receptor agonist, psilocybin (Psi), reduces the processing of negative stimuli, but whether 5-HT2A/1A receptor stimulation modulates the processing of negative social interactions remains unclear. Therefore, this double-blind, randomized, counterbalanced, cross-over study assessed the neural response to social exclusion after the acute administration of Psi (0.215 mg/kg) or placebo (Pla) in 21 healthy volunteers by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and resting-state magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). Participants reported a reduced feeling of social exclusion after Psi vs. Pla administration, and the neural response to social exclusion was decreased in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and the middle frontal gyrus, key regions for social pain processing. The reduced neural response in the dACC was significantly correlated with Psi-induced changes in self-processing and decreased aspartate (Asp) content. In conclusion, 5-HT2A/1A receptor stimulation with psilocybin seems to reduce social pain processing in association with changes in self-experience. These findings may be relevant to the normalization of negative social interaction processing in psychiatric disorders characterized by increased rejection sensitivity. The current results also emphasize the importance of 5-HT2A/1A receptor subtypes and the Asp system in the control of social functioning, and as prospective targets in the treatment of sociocognitive impairments in psychiatric illnesses.

Preller, K. H., Pokorny, T., Hock, A., Kraehenmann, R., Stämpfli, P., Seifritz, E., … & Vollenweider, F. X. (2016). Effects of serotonin 2A/1A receptor stimulation on social exclusion processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201524187. http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1524187113

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The mixed serotonin receptor agonist psilocybin reduces threat-induced modulation of amygdala connectivity

Abstract

Stimulation of serotonergic neurotransmission by psilocybin has been shown to shift emotional biases away from negative towards positive stimuli. We have recently shown that reduced amygdala activity during threat processing might underlie psilocybin’s effect on emotional processing. However, it is still not known whether psilocybin modulates bottom-up or top-down connectivity within the visual-limbic-prefrontal network underlying threat processing. We therefore analyzed our previous fMRI data using dynamic causal modeling and used Bayesian model selection to infer how psilocybin modulated effective connectivity within the visual–limbic–prefrontal network during threat processing. First, both placebo and psilocybin data were best explained by a model in which threat affect modulated bidirectional connections between the primary visual cortex, amygdala, and lateral prefrontal cortex. Second, psilocybin decreased the threat-induced modulation of top-down connectivity from the amygdala to primary visual cortex, speaking to a neural mechanism that might underlie putative shifts towards positive affect states after psilocybin administration. These findings may have important implications for the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders.

Kraehenmann, R., Schmidt, A., Friston, K., Preller, K. H., Seifritz, E., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2015). The mixed serotonin receptor agonist psilocybin reduces threat-induced modulation of amygdala connectivity. NeuroImage: Clinical. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nicl.2015.08.009
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Psilocybin-induced spiritual experiences and insightfulness are associated with synchronization of neuronal oscillations

Abstract

Rationale

During the last years, considerable progress has been made toward understanding the neuronal basis of consciousness by using sophisticated behavioral tasks, brain-imaging techniques, and various psychoactive drugs. Nevertheless, the neuronal mechanisms underlying some of the most intriguing states of consciousness, including spiritual experiences, remain unknown.

Objectives

To elucidate state of consciousness-related neuronal mechanisms, human subjects were given psilocybin, a naturally occurring serotonergic agonist and hallucinogen that has been used for centuries to induce spiritual experiences in religious and medical rituals.

Methods

In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 50 healthy human volunteers received a moderate dose of psilocybin, while high-density electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings were taken during eyes-open and eyes-closed resting states. The current source density and the lagged phase synchronization of neuronal oscillations across distributed brain regions were computed and correlated with psilocybin-induced altered states of consciousness.

Results

Psilocybin decreased the current source density of neuronal oscillations at 1.5–20 Hz within a neural network comprising the anterior and posterior cingulate cortices and the parahippocampal regions. Most intriguingly, the intensity levels of psilocybin-induced spiritual experience and insightfulness correlated with the lagged phase synchronization of delta oscillations (1.5–4 Hz) between the retrosplenial cortex, the parahippocampus, and the lateral orbitofrontal area.

Conclusions

These results provide systematic evidence for the direct association of a specific spatiotemporal neuronal mechanism with spiritual experiences and enhanced insight into life and existence. The identified mechanism may constitute a pathway for modulating mental health, as spiritual experiences can promote sustained well-being and psychological resilience.

Kometer, M., Pokorny, T., Seifritz, E., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2015). Psilocybin-induced spiritual experiences and insightfulness are associated with synchronization of neuronal oscillations. Psychopharmacology, 1-14. https://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00213-015-4026-7

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Psilocybin-Induced Decrease in Amygdala Reactivity Correlates with Enhanced Positive Mood in Healthy Volunteers

Abstract

Background
The amygdala is a key structure in serotonergic emotion-processing circuits. In healthy volunteers, acute administration of the serotonin 1A/2A/2C receptor agonist psilocybin reduces neural responses to negative stimuli and induces mood changes toward positive states. However, it is little-known whether psilocybin reduces amygdala reactivity to negative stimuli and whether any change in amygdala reactivity is related to mood change.

Methods
This study assessed the effects of acute administration of the hallucinogen psilocybin (.16 mg/kg) versus placebo on amygdala reactivity to negative stimuli in 25 healthy volunteers using blood oxygen level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging. Mood changes were assessed using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule and the state portion of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. A double-blind, randomized, cross-over design was used with volunteers counterbalanced to receive psilocybin and placebo in two separate sessions at least 14 days apart.

Results
Amygdala reactivity to negative and neutral stimuli was lower after psilocybin administration than after placebo administration. The psilocybin-induced attenuation of right amygdala reactivity in response to negative stimuli was related to the psilocybin-induced increase in positive mood state.

Conclusions
These results demonstrate that acute treatment with psilocybin decreased amygdala reactivity during emotion processing and that this was associated with an increase of positive mood in healthy volunteers. These findings may be relevant to the normalization of amygdala hyperactivity and negative mood states in patients with major depression.

Kraehenmann, R., Preller, K. H., Scheidegger, M., Pokorny, T., Bosch, O. G., Seifritz, E., & Vollenwieder, F. X. (2014). Psilocybin-Induced Decrease in Amygdala Reactivity Correlates with Enhanced Positive Mood in Healthy Volunteers. Biological Psychiatry. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.04.010
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