•LSD-induced effects are blocked by the 5-HT2A receptor antagonist ketanserin
•LSD increased the attribution of meaning to previously meaningless music
•Simulation of the 5-HT2A receptor is crucial for the generation of meaning
•Changes in personal meaning attribution are mediated by cortical midline structuresSummary
A core aspect of the human self is the attribution of personal relevance to everyday stimuli enabling us to experience our environment as meaningful. However, abnormalities in the attribution of personal relevance to sensory experiences are also critical features of many psychiatric disorders. 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.