OPEN Foundation

T. Pokorny

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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LSD Increases Primary Process Thinking via Serotonin 2A Receptor Activation

Abstract

Rationale: Stimulation of serotonin 2A (5-HT2A) receptors by lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and related compounds such as psilocybin has previously been shown to increase primary process thinking – an ontologically and evolutionary early, implicit, associative, and automatic mode of thinking which is typically occurring during altered states of consciousness such as dreaming. However, it is still largely unknown whether LSD induces primary process thinking under placebo-controlled, standardized experimental conditions and whether these effects are related to subjective experience and 5-HT2A receptor activation. Therefore, this study aimed to test the hypotheses that LSD increases primary process thinking and that primary process thinking depends on 5-HT2A receptor activation and is related to subjective drug effects.

Methods: Twenty-five healthy subjects performed an audio-recorded 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). The main outcome variable in this study was primary index (PI), a formal measure of primary process thinking in the imagery reports. State of consciousness was evaluated using the Altered State of Consciousness (5D-ASC) rating scale.

Results: LSD, compared with placebo, significantly increased primary index (p < 0.001, Bonferroni-corrected). The LSD-induced increase in primary index was positively correlated with LSD-induced disembodiment (p < 0.05, Bonferroni-corrected), and blissful state (p < 0.05, Bonferroni-corrected) on the 5D-ASC. Both LSD-induced increases in primary index and changes in state of consciousness were fully blocked by ketanserin.

Conclusion: LSD induces primary process thinking via activation of 5-HT2A receptors and in relation to disembodiment and blissful state. Primary process thinking appears to crucially organize inner experiences during both dreams and psychedelic states of consciousness.

Kraehenmann, R., Pokorny, D., Aicher, H., Preller, K. H., Pokorny, T., Bosch, O. G., … & Vollenweider, F. X. (2017). LSD Increases Primary Process Thinking via Serotonin 2A Receptor Activation. Frontiers in Pharmacology8, 814. 10.3389/fphar.2017.00814
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Effect of psilocybin on empathy and moral decision-making

Abstract

Background:

Impaired empathic abilities lead to severe negative social consequences and influence the development and treatment of several psychiatric disorders. Furthermore, empathy has been shown to play a crucial role in moral and prosocial behaviour. Although the serotonin (5-HT) system has been implicated in modulating empathy and moral behaviour, the relative contribution of the various 5-HT receptor subtypes is still unknown.

Methods:

We investigated the acute effect of psilocybin (0.215mg/kg p.o.) in healthy human subjects on different facets of empathy and hypothetical moral decision-making using the Multifaceted Empathy Test (MET) (n=32) and the Moral Dilemma Task (MDT) (n=24).

Results:

Psilocybin significantly increased emotional, but not cognitive empathy compared to placebo, and the increase in implicit emotional empathy was significantly associated with psilocybin-induced changed meaning of percepts. In contrast, moral decision-making remained unaffected by psilocybin.

Conclusions:

These findings provide first evidence that psilocybin has distinct effects on social cognition by enhancing emotional empathy but not moral behaviour. Furthermore, together with previous findings psilocybin appears to promote emotional empathy presumably via activation of 5-HT2A/1A receptors suggesting that targeting 5-HT2A/1A receptors has implications for potential treatment of dysfunctional social cognition.

Pokorny, T., Preller, K. H., Kometer, M., Dziobek, I., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2017). Effect of psilocybin on empathy and moral decision-making. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. 10.1093/ijnp/pyx047

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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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The Fabric of Meaning and Subjective Effects in LSD-Induced States Depend on Serotonin 2A Receptor Activation

Abstract

A core aspect of the human self is the attribution of personal relevance to everyday stimuli enabling us to experience our environment as meaningful [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][1]. However, abnormalities in the attribution of personal relevance to sensory experiences are also critical features of many psychiatric disorders [2 and 3]. Despite their clinical relevance, the neurochemical and anatomical substrates enabling meaningful experiences are largely unknown. Therefore, we investigated the neuropharmacology of personal relevance processing in humans by combining fMRI and the administration of the mixed serotonin (5-HT) and dopamine receptor (R) agonist lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), well known to alter the subjective meaning of percepts, with and without pretreatment with the 5-HT2AR antagonist ketanserin. General subjective LSD effects were fully blocked by ketanserin. In addition, ketanserin inhibited the LSD-induced attribution of personal relevance to previously meaningless stimuli and modulated the processing of meaningful stimuli in cortical midline structures. These findings point to the crucial role of the 5-HT2AR subtype and cortical midline regions in the generation and attribution of personal relevance. Our results thus increase our mechanistic understanding of personal relevance processing and reveal potential targets for the treatment of psychiatric illnesses characterized by alterations in personal relevance attribution.

Preller, K. H., Herdener, M., Pokorny, T., Planzer, A., Kraehenmann, R., Stämpfli, P., … & Vollenweider, F. X. (2017). The fabric of meaning and subjective effects in LSD-induced states depend on serotonin 2A receptor activation. Current Biology, 27(3), 451-457. 10.1016/j.cub.2016.12.030
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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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Modulatory effect of the 5-HT1A agonist buspirone and the mixed non-hallucinogenic 5-HT1A/2A agonist ergotamine on psilocybin-induced psychedelic experience

Abstract

The mixed serotonin (5-HT) 1A/2A/2B/2C/6/7 receptor agonist psilocybin dose-dependently induces an altered state of consciousness (ASC) that is characterized by changes in sensory perception, mood, thought, and the sense of self. The psychological effects of psilocybin are primarily mediated by 5-HT2A receptor activation. However, accumulating evidence suggests that 5-HT1A or an interaction between 5-HT1A and 5-HT2A receptors may contribute to the overall effects of psilocybin. Therefore, we used a double-blind, counterbalanced, within-subject design to investigate the modulatory effects of the partial 5-HT1A agonist buspirone (20 mg p.o.) and the non-hallucinogenic 5-HT2A/1A agonist ergotamine (3 mg p.o.) on psilocybin-induced (170 µg/kg p.o.) psychological effects in two groups (n=19, n=17) of healthy human subjects. Psychological effects were assessed using the Altered State of Consciousness (5D-ASC) rating scale. Buspirone significantly reduced the 5D-ASC main scale score for Visionary Restructuralization (VR) (p<0.001), which was mostly driven by a reduction of the VR item cluster scores for elementary and complex visual hallucinations. Further, buspirone also reduced the main scale score for Oceanic Boundlessness including derealisation and depersonalisation phenomena at a trend level (p=0.062), whereas ergotamine did not show any effects on the psilocybin-induced 5D-ASC main scale scores. The present finding demonstrates that buspirone exerts inhibitory effects on psilocybin-induced effects, presumably via 5-HT1A receptor activation, an interaction between 5-HT1A and 5-HT2A receptors, or both. The data suggest that the modulation of 5-HT1A receptor activity may be a useful target in the treatment of visual hallucinations in different psychiatric and neurological diseases.

Pokorny, T., Preller, K. H., Kraehenmann, R., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2016). Modulatory effect of the 5-HT1A agonist buspirone and the mixed non-hallucinogenic 5-HT1A/2A agonist ergotamine on psilocybin-induced psychedelic experience. European Neuropsychopharmacology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.euroneuro.2016.01.005
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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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The Effect of 5-HT2A/1a Agonist Treatment On Social Cognition, Empathy, and Social Decision-making

Abstract

Social cognition is a crucial factor influencing development, progress, and treatment of psychiatric disorders. However, social cognition skills are insufficiently targeted by current treatment approaches. In particular, patients suffering from depression show an increased negative reaction to social exclusion and deficits in empathy. The 5HT-1A/2A receptor agonist psilocybin has previously been shown to reduce the neural response to negative emotional stimuli. However, it is not known if this extends to negative social interaction and whether 5HT-1A/2A receptor stimulation induces changes in empathy. Given the clear need for improved treatment of socio-cognitive functioning in psychiatric disorders, it is important to better understand the neuronal and neuromodulatory substrates of social cognition.

In a double-blind, randomized, cross-over design we therefore investigated the neural response to ostracism after the acute administration of psilocybin (0.215mg/kg) and placebo in healthy volunteers using fMRI. Furthermore, we assessed cognitive and emotional empathy using the Multifaceted Empathy Test.

The neural response to social exclusion in the ACC – a brain region associated with ‘social pain”- was reduced after psilocybin administration compared to placebo. Furthermore, emotional empathy was enhanced after treatment with psilocybin while no significant differences were found in cognitive empathy.

These results show that the 5HT-1A/2A receptor subtypes play an important role in the modulation of socio-cognitive functioning and therefore may be relevant for the treatment of social cognition deficits in psychiatric disorders. In particular, they may be important for the normalization of empathy deficits and increased negative reaction to social exclusion in depressed patients.

Preller, K. H., Pokorny, T., Krähenmann, R., Dziobek, I., Stämpfli, P., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2015). The Effect of 5-HT2A/1a Agonist Treatment On Social Cognition, Empathy, and Social Decision-making. European Psychiatry, 30, 22. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0924-9338(15)30017-1
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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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