The pace of psychedelic research continued its acceleration during 2021, culminating in several fascinating and groundbreaking studies. As the year comes to a close, Psychedelic Science Review is acknowledging some of the outstanding research papers of 2021.
This year, the Editor’s Choice Award for the best study on psychedelics and neuroplasticity goes to Dr. Lingxiao Shao and her research team at the Yale University School of Medicine for their paper in Neuron titled, “Psilocybin induces rapid and persistent growth of dendritic spines in frontal cortex in vivo.”1 Psychedelic Science Review published a detailed summary article on the paper earlier this year.
Dr. Shao’s research team set out to fill two critical gaps regarding psilocybin that they identified in the literature: 1) No one had demonstrated that psilocybin changes structural plasticity at the cellular level in a mammalian brain, and 2) it is unknown how long it takes for psilocybin to elicit its neuronal effects in vivo.
They used techniques including two-photon microscopy and the head twitch response (HTR) to observe, among other things, the effects of one dose of pure psilocybin on dendritic spine growth in layer 5 pyramidal neurons in the mouse medial frontal cortex. They also utilized the 5-HT2A receptor antagonist ketanserin to test whether the receptor is involved in the brain structural plasticity brought on by psilocybin.
The main findings of the study included:
- “A single dose of psilocybin led to ~10% increases in spine size and density, driven by an elevated spine formation rate. The structural remodeling occurred quickly within 24 hours and was persistent 1 month later.”
- “Psilocybin also ameliorated stress-related behavioral deficit and elevated excitatory neurotransmission.”
Overall, Shao et al. concluded that, “The results demonstrate that psilocybin-evoked synaptic rewiring in the cortex is fast and enduring, potentially providing a structural trace for long-term integration of experiences and lasting beneficial actions.”