Effects of tryptophan depletion on memory, attention and executive functions: A systematic review

Department of Neuropsychology and Psychopharmacology, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.
Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews (Impact Factor: 8.8). 07/2009; 33(6):926-52. DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2009.03.006
Source: PubMed


The serotonergic system is implicated in the regulation of mood and cognition. Acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) is an experimental procedure for lowering central serotonin levels. Here, the effects of ATD on psychomotor processing, declarative memory, working memory, executive functions and attention are discussed. The most robust finding is that ATD impairs the consolidation of episodic memory for verbal information. Semantic memory appears to be unaffected by ATD although a limited variety of tasks examined effects in this domain. Similarly, evidence suggests ATD does not influence verbal, spatial and affective working memory. Most studies investigating effects on executive functions have produced non-specific or negative findings. In terms of attention, ATD either does not affect or may improve focused attention and ATD likely does not impact sustained and divided attention or attentional set-shifting. Although ATD is known to affect mood in certain vulnerable populations, the effects of ATD on cognition in non-vulnerable participants are independent of mood changes. Suggestions for future directions and implications for psychiatric illnesses are discussed.

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    • ", Hughes et al . , 2003 ; Mendelsohn , Riedel , & Sambeth , 2009 ) . Furthermore , ATD is a pharmacological proce - dure that reduces serotonin to extremely low levels that would not normally occur and would therefore have limited applicabil - ity to understanding how modestly lowered levels of serotonin or any other neurotransmitter are related to self - regulatory fatigue . "
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    • "The afferent connections of the vagus nerve provide direct projections to many of the modulatory regions of the brain that have been implicated in executive control and motivation (Ruffoli et al., 2011) and electronic vagal nerve stimulation affects the release of norepinephrine and serotonin in rats (Dorr and Debonnel, 2006). Thus, further investigation into noradrenergic and serotonergic mechanisms is warranted and may ultimately lead to a more comprehensive understanding of self-regulatory depletion and cognitive fatigue, the latter of which has already been strongly linked to serotonergic depletion by researchers who have studied the effects of tryptophan depletion (the amino acid precursor to serotonin) on cognitive fatigue (Mendelsohn et al., 2009). For dogs, the present research has implications regarding alternative means of replenishment. "
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