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As psychedelic drugs bind a receptor inside nerve cells they can cause nerve cell growth while serotonin doesn't as it binds on the surface

08 June 2023

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Where would you expect to find psychedelic drugs? A nightclub, a back alley, or a hospital? Expectations are changing, thanks to increased research into their mechanisms of action and potential as treatments of those mental health conditions that are characterised by a loss of brain cell connections such as PTSD and depression. Previous studies had identified that they help rebuild these connections, and that they interact with a particular group of receptors on neurons, called 5-HT2ARs (coloured inside a white highlighted neuron, pictured), which serotonin also binds to. But it wasn’t clear how the drugs’ binding causes neuron growth while serotonin’s does not. A new study showed this outcome only happens when binding happens inside nerve cells, not on the surface, which is where serotonin interacts. This detail may be a key feature to bear in mind when developing much-needed treatments for people with severe mental health conditions.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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