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The role of serotonin in human mood and social interaction: Insight from altered tryptophan levels



Alterations in brain tryptophan levels cause changes in brain serotonin synthesis, and this has been used to study the implication of altered serotonin levels in humans. In the acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) technique, subjects ingest a mixture of amino acids devoid of tryptophan. This results in a transient decline in tissue tryptophan and in brain serotonin. ATD can result in lower mood and increase in irritability or aggressive responding. The magnitude of the effect varies greatly depending on the susceptibility of the subject to lowered mood or aggressivity. Unlike ATD, tryptophan can be given chronically. Tryptophan is an antidepressant in mild to moderate depression and a small body of data suggests that it can also decrease aggression. Preliminary data indicate that tryptophan also increases dominant behavior during social interactions. Overall, studies manipulating tryptophan levels support the idea that low serotonin can predispose subjects to mood and impulse control disorders. Higher levels of serotonin may help to promote more constructive social interactions by decreasing aggression and increasing dominance.
The role of serotonin in human mood and social interaction
Insight from altered tryptophan levels
Simon N. Young*, Marco Leyton
Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, 1033 Pine Avenue West, Montre
´al, Que
´bec, Canada H3A 1A1
Received 14 May 2001; received in revised form 3 July 2001; accepted 9 July 2001
Alterations in brain tryptophan levels cause changes in brain serotonin synthesis, and this has been used to study the implication of altered
serotonin levels in humans. In the acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) technique, subjects ingest a mixture of amino acids devoid of
tryptophan. This results in a transient decline in tissue tryptophan and in brain serotonin. ATD can result in lower mood and increase in
irritability or aggressive responding. The magnitude of the effect varies greatly depending on the susceptibility of the subject to lowered
mood or aggressivity. Unlike ATD, tryptophan can be given chronically. Tryptophan is an antidepressant in mild to moderate depression and
a small body of data suggests that it can also decrease aggression. Preliminary data indicate that tryptophan also increases dominant behavior
during social interactions. Overall, studies manipulating tryptophan levels support the idea that low serotonin can predispose subjects to
mood and impulse control disorders. Higher levels of serotonin may help to promote more constructive social interactions by decreasing
aggression and increasing dominance. D2002 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Tryptophan; Serotonin; Depression; Aggression; Dominance; Social interaction
1. Introduction
Over the past four decades, advances have been made in
understanding the role of serotonin in the control of mood
and behavior and in the etiology of psychopathology. Given
the complexity of the problem, a variety of different
experimental approaches have been needed, each with their
own particular advantages and disadvantages. Studies that
look at measures related to serotonin function in patients
may demonstrate an alteration, but such associations do not
necessarily imply anything about cause and effect. Studies
that look at the mechanism of action of treatments provide
information on the role of serotonin in the treatment of
symptoms, but systems involved in therapy are not neces-
sarily those involved in etiology. Altering levels of the
serotonin precursor tryptophan can provide information
both on the results of low serotonin levels and also on
whether increasing serotonin levels can be therapeutic. In
such studies, cause and effect are quite clear, but as
discussed below, such studies have their own disadvantages.
Tryptophan hydroxylase, the rate-limiting enzyme on the
pathway from tryptophan to serotonin, is not normally
saturated with tryptophan. In humans, increasing tryptophan
levels can increase serotonin synthesis as much as twofold
(Young and Gauthier, 1981), while decreasing tryptophan
availability can cause a substantial decline in serotonin
synthesis and turnover (Nishizawa et al., 1997; Carpenter
et al., 1998). When tryptophan is given to increase serotonin
synthesis, a dose of 6 g (about six times the normal daily
dietary intake; Sainio et al., 1996), is enough to saturate
tryptophan hydroxylase and double the rate of serotonin
synthesis (Young and Gauthier, 1981). In clinical studies,
lower doses are sometimes used, e.g., 1 g TID (Young,
1986). While giving tryptophan can be done chronically,
lowering tryptophan levels can only be done acutely.
In the acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) technique,
subjects ingest a mixture of amino acids that contains no
tryptophan (Young et al., 1985; Moore et al., 2000). This
induces protein synthesis (Moja et al., 1991), and as
tryptophan is incorporated into proteins, its level in blood
and tissues declines markedly. This results in a decline in
serotonin synthesis in both animal (Gessa et al., 1974) and
human brain (Nishizawa et al., 1997). In animal studies,
alterations in serotonin synthesis lead, in some circum-
0091-3057/02/$ – see front matter D2002 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0091-3057(01)00670-0
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-514-398-7317; fax: +1-514-398-4370.
E-mail address: (S.N. Young).
Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 71 (2002) 857 – 865
stances, to a change in serotonin release (Stancampiano et
al., 1997; Bel and Artigas, 1996; Heslop et al., 1991;
Schwartz et al., 1990; Westerink and De Vries, 1991;
Sharp et al., 1992). ATD attenuates the prolactin response
to D-fenfluramine challenge in healthy human subjects,
indicating that there is a decline of serotonin levels in
the releasable pool of serotonin (Coccaro et al., 1998).
However, the evidence for a decline in serotonin release
after ATD in humans in the absence of fenfluramine
treatment is circumstantial. It is presumed to occur when
the consequences of ATD or tryptophan loading are
consistent with what is know about the role of serotonin
in humans.
The advantage of the tryptophan depletion and loading
techniques is that the relation between cause and effect in
any experiment is clear, but they have several limitations.
First, as noted above, there is no direct evidence that brain
serotonin release is altered in humans. Second, altered
tryptophan levels may influence the levels of compounds
other than serotonin. ATD at night lowers plasma melatonin
(Zimmermann et al., 1993), while tryptophan supplementa-
tion increases plasma melatonin (Huether et al., 1992).
Other potentially psychoactive tryptophan metabolites that
might be altered include tryptamine, quinolinic acid and
kynurenic acid. Tryptophan supplementation has been
shown to increase human CNS tryptamine synthesis (Young
and Gauthier, 1981), but the functional implications of this
are not known. A third limitation of the ATD method is
related to the imbalanced mixture of amino acids ingested.
Tryptophan has a special role to play in the regulation of
protein synthesis (Sidransky et al., 1968). While tryptophan
supplements may increase protein synthesis in the brain
(Jorgensen and Majumdar, 1976), tryptophan deficiency
could possibly decrease brain protein synthesis. Further-
more, an extensive animal literature exists on the effects of
amino acid imbalance, and a tryptophan-deficient amino
acid mixture is an example of a diet causing amino acid
imbalance. In rats, an amino acid imbalance causes a rapid
decline in food intake (Harper et al., 1970). Conditioned
place aversion probably plays a role in this decline in food
intake, and the effect may be mediated by serotonin, as
receptor antagonists block both taste aversion and
the decline in intake of an amino acid imbalanced diet
(Terry-Nathan et al., 1995). It is important to note that this
effect occurs with any amino imbalanced diet, not just one
with deficiency of tryptophan. Thus, the involvement of
serotonin in the anorexia is not mediated via altered
tryptophan availability. However, ATD does not lower food
intake in humans (Young et al., 1988; Oldman et al., 1994,
1995; Weltzin et al., 1995). This may reflect a difference
between humans and rats rather than demonstrating that
humans are not sensitive to the effects of amino acid
imbalance. If amino acid imbalance can alter one aspect
of brain function, food intake, via an unknown mechanism,
it might mediate changes in mood or behavior in ATD
studies by the same mechanism. Thus, an appropriate
control would be to look at the effect of amino acid mixtures
deficient in amino acids other than tryptophan, to see if they
have the same effect as T-amino acid mixtures. This was
done by Klaassen et al. (1999a) who compared the effect of
ATD and acute lysine depletion in healthy subjects with a
family history of depression. Consistent with previous work,
ATD caused a modest but significant lowering of mood
(Benkelfat et al., 1994). However, depletion of the essential
amino acid lysine had no effect on mood. Lysine is not a
neurotransmitter precursor and, like other amino acids, is
degraded to provide energy. It is also a precursor of
carnitine, but this is not relevant to the control of mood.
Thus, nonspecific effects related to amino acid imbalance
are unlikely to account for the effects on mood. Confirma-
tion of this result with other amino acid mixtures deficient in
other essential amino acids would reinforce this conclusion.
A fourth limitation of the ATD technique is the relatively
short duration of the biochemical changes. Obviously, the
effects of chronic low brain serotonin on, for example,
mood may be different both quantitatively and qualitatively
from the effects of a few hours of low brain serotonin
produced by tryptophan depletion. This is not a limitation of
tryptophan supplementation studies.
2. Mood
2.1. Tryptophan depletion
A transient lowering of mood was the first reported
behavioral effect of ATD in humans (Young et al., 1985).
As noted above, recent results confirm that this is unlikely to
be a nonspecific effect of amino acid imbalance. Acute
lysine depletion has no effect on mood even in individuals
who respond to ATD (Klaassen et al., 1999a). Acute
depletion of the catecholamine precursors, phenylalanine
and tyrosine, also lowers mood, but the effect is qualita-
tively different from that produced by ATD, the latter
associated with irritability and the former with self-reported
boredom and decreased interest in rewards (Leyton et al.,
Mood-lowering responses following ATD have been
reported in approximately half of the published studies in
healthy volunteers. This variability in response to ATD
appears to reflect characteristics of the individual being
tested. Women report a mood-lowering effect more often
than men (Ellenbogen et al., 1996). This does not appear to
be due to women being more likely to articulate a mild
change in mood. Preliminary results suggest that women are
not more likely than men to report mood lowering following
cathecholamine depletion (Moreno et al., 1999b). Women,
compared to men, also have a superior treatment response to
SSRI antidepressants but not to noradrenergic tricyclics
(Kornstein et al., 2001). This, along with evidence from
other sources (e.g., Young et al., 1980; Biver et al., 1996;
Okazawa et al., 2001), raises the possibility that a sex-
S.N. Young, M. Leyton / Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 71 (2002) 857–865858
related difference in response to ATD might reflect differ-
ences in serotonin function.
People at elevated genetic risk for mood disorders are
also more likely to display a transient mood-lowering
response to ATD. In a sample of carefully screened healthy
men, with or without a multigenerational family history of
mood disorders, only the high-risk males exhibited mood
lowering following ATD. This effect of family history has
been replicated and, to date, has been seen in three of four
reported studies (Benkelfat et al., 1994; Ellenbogen et al.,
1999; Klaassen et al., 1999b; Quintin et al., 2001). A mood-
lowering response to ATD might be a phenotypic marker of
vulnerability to depression (Benkelfat et al., 1994).
The mood lowering seen following ATD in healthy
subjects is in the subclinical range. In comparison, larger
changes have been reported to occur in those with a personal
history of mood disorders. As in healthy subjects, there
appears to be considerable individual variability among
former patients in susceptibility to ATD-related mood low-
ering. A transient reappearance of depressive symptoms in
some remitted, treatment-free subjects with a history of
clinical depression has been reported in four studies (Smith
et al., 1997; Neumeister et al., 1998b; Moreno et al., 1999a;
Leyton et al., 2000a) but not in three others (Miller et al.,
1996; Lam et al., 2000; Leyton et al., 1997). Preliminary
attempts to identify factors that might account for the
marked individual differences in mood-lowering response
to ATD among former patients implicate sex (Moreno et al.,
2001), a history of self-injury/suicidal behavior (Smith et al.,
1999; Leyton et al., 1997, 2000a), elevated genetic risk for
impulsive aggressive behavior (Leyton et al., 2000a),
relapse during the following 12 months (Neumeister et al.,
1999; Moreno et al., 2000) and, possibly, inherited poly-
morphisms of the gene encoding for the 5-HT transporter
(Moreno et al., 2001, but see also Lenzinger et al., 1999).
Two positron emission tomography studies suggest that, in
remitted patients, reinstatement of depressive symptoms
following ATD is associated with decreased metabolic
activity in the orbitofrontal cortex and striatum (Bremner
et al., 1997; Smith et al., 1999). Intriguingly, ATD does not
exacerbate depressive symptoms in currently ill untreated
patients with major depressive disorder (Delgado et al.,
1994), possibly due to a ceiling effect.
The largest mood-lowering responses to ATD have been
reported to occur in remitted patients still receiving anti-
depressant treatment. Here, too, considerable variability in
effect size exists, and this seems to be related to treatment
modality, characteristics of the patient and efficacy of the
depletion. A recent discussion noted that some participants
in ATD studies experienced relatively modest depletions of
plasma tryptophan levels. A reanalysis of these data sug-
gested that a minimum 60% depletion was necessary,
though not sufficient, to elicit the reappearance of depres-
sive symptoms (Van der Does, 2001).
Treatment modality is the best-studied variable related
to whether ATD reverses antidepressant efficacy. A tran-
sient reversal of clinical efficacy has been seen in patients
being treated with SSRIs (6/7 published reports: Delgado
et al., 1990; Delgado et al., 1991; Delgado et al., 1999;
Bremner et al., 1997; A
˚berg-Wistedt et al., 1998; Smith
et al., 1999, but not Moore et al., 1998), MAOIs (2/2:
Delgado et al., 1990; Smith et al., 1999) and phototherapy
(2/2: Lam et al., 1996; Neumeister et al., 1998a). In
comparison, ATD does not appear to reverse the clinical
efficacy of tricyclics (3/3: Delgado et al., 1990, 1991,
1999), lithium (3/3: Benkelfat et al., 1995; Cassidy et al.,
1998; Hughes et al., 2001), ECT (1/1: Cassidy et al., 1997)
or sleep deprivation (1/1: Neumeister et al., 1998b). One
interpretation is that the mechanism of some antidepressant
treatments might be more dependent than others on unin-
terrupted serotonin neurotransmission (Delgado et al.,
1999). This is not a sufficient explanation, though, and
only 50 60% of patients being treated with an SSRI,
MAOI or phototherapy experience a reappearance of
depressive symptoms following ATD. An alternative —
though not incompatible — explanation is that susceptibil-
ity to ATD-related depressive symptom induction varies
during treatment and might be highest during the first few
weeks of reduced symptomatology (Moore et al., 1998). A
recent study indicates that administration of an SSRI per se
is not sufficient to elicit vulnerability to ATD mood low-
ering. In six healthy subjects (four men and two women),
fluoxetine administration (20 mg/day for 6 weeks) did not
increase their affective response to ATD (Barr et al., 1997).
As in remitted patients off medication, there is evidence
that characteristics of the subject may also predict whether
ATD will lead to a reversal of antidepressant efficacy. Some
post hoc analyses suggest that ATD is more likely to lead to
a mood-lowering effect in women than in men (Moreno
et al., 2001). Additional factors not yet assessed include
family history, risk for self-injury and genotype.
2.2. Tryptophan supplementation
The acute effect of tryptophan in normal subjects, like
that of ATD, results in a mood change, in this case euphoria,
in a minority of subjects when tryptophan is given at doses
0.5 7 g (Leathwood and Pollet, 1983; Charney et al., 1982;
Greenwood et al., 1975; Smith and Prockop, 1962). How-
ever, there is no understanding of the factors that lead to
mood changes in some subjects and not in others. Similarly,
the antidepressant effect of tryptophan seems to vary
depending on how and to whom it is given. There seems
to be a consensus that tryptophan is not as effective as
standard antidepressants in severely depressed inpatients
(Cole et al., 1980; Baldessarini, 1984; Young, 1986).
However, the largest and longest study of tryptophan as
an antidepressant looked at its effect relative to placebo,
amitriptyline and the combination of tryptophan and ami-
triptyline in mild to moderately depressed outpatients over
12 weeks (Thomson et al., 1982). Tryptophan was better
than placebo and equivalent to amitriptyline in efficacy and
S.N. Young, M. Leyton / Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 71 (2002) 857–865 859
had fewer side effects than amitriptyline. The combination
of tryptophan and amitriptyline was not better than either
drug alone.
Four placebo-controlled studies have demonstrated the
ability of tryptophan, given at dose of L-tryptophan from 3.5
to 18 g/day, to potentiate the antidepressant action of
monoamine oxidase inhibitors (Pare, 1963; Coppen et al.,
1963; Glassman and Platman, 1969; Ayuso Guttierrez and
Lopez-Ibor Alino, 1971). However, tryptophan also poten-
tiated the side effects of the monoamine oxidase inhibitors.
Unlike the combination of tryptophan with MAOIs, the
addition of tryptophan to tricyclic antidepressants has only
occasionally shown any potentiation of clinical effect.
Negative results came from several studies, which looked
at the combination of tryptophan with clomipramine or
desipramine (Shaw et al., 1975), imipramine (Chouinard
et al., 1979) and zimelidine (Wa
˚linder et al., 1981). In a
study comparing tryptophan and placebo in patients treated
with amitriptyline, there was a trend for the combination to
give better results, but this effect was not statistically
significant (Lopez-Ibor Alino et al., 1973). However, the
combination of clomipramine with DL-tryptophan was sig-
nificantly better than clomipramine alone (Wa
˚linder et al.,
1976). As mentioned above, the largest and longest study of
the effect of the addition of tryptophan to other antidepres-
sants found no significant difference between the three
active treatment groups, and all were significantly better
than placebo (Thomson et al., 1982). However, the Hamil-
ton Depression Scale item ‘‘depressed mood’ showed
significantly better improvement for the combination than
for either active treatment alone. A single preliminary study
on specific serotonin reuptake inhibitors reported that
patients treated with fluoxetine plus tryptophan responded
significantly faster than those treated with fluoxetine and
placebo (Levitan et al., 2000).
As with tryptophan depletion studies, the clinical use of
tryptophan provides clear evidence that altered tryptophan
levels can result in an alteration of mood in some circum-
stances. This is seen most clearly in patients with mild to
moderate depression.
3. Interpersonal interaction
3.1. Tryptophan depletion
The most studied aspect of interpersonal interaction is
aggression. A wealth of animal data supports the idea that
there is an inverse relationship between serotonin and
aggression and in particular impulsive aggression (Eichel-
man, 1993; Higley and Linnoila, 1997). Correlational data
in humans (e.g., between levels of the serotonin metabolite
5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid in the cerebrospinal fluid and
aggressive behavior) support the idea that low serotonin also
predisposes humans to impulsive aggressive behavior (Virk-
kunen and Linnoila, 1993; Mann, 1995). ATD has been used
in conjunction with laboratory measures to investigate a
causal link between low serotonin and aggression in
humans. The tests used include behavioral measures of
‘‘aggression’’ and paper-and-pencil tests that look at related
phenomena such as irritability. Spontaneous acts of aggres-
sion are usually too infrequent to study during the short time
of an ATD study, which is why laboratory measures of
aggression, which obviously suffer from a certain artifici-
ality, and feelings such as irritability, are usually studied.
One measure of aggressive responding that has been
used in conjunction with ATD is the Taylor Competitive
Reaction Time task (Taylor, 1967, 1983). Subjects are told
that they are competing in a reaction time trial with an
opponent in another room, although the opponent is in fact
fictitious. The response of the opponent is programmed into
a computer. Before each trial, the subject adjusts a switch or
presses one of several buttons to set the level of a sound or
an electric shock (below the previously determined painful
threshold) to be delivered to their opponent, should the
subject win the trial. Should the subject lose the trial, s/he
receives a stimulus within the same intensity range. The
measure of aggression is the level of the stimulus adminis-
tered to the opponent. This can be studied when the
subject’s opponent delivers both low-intensity stimuli or
provokes the subject by administering a high-intensity
stimulus. Using this measure with healthy male subjects,
Smith et al. (1986) found no effect of ATD. However,
subsequently, the same group used a slightly different
design with higher levels of provocation and found that
aggression varied inversely with tryptophan levels (Pihl
et al., 1995). Alcohol also increased aggressive responding.
The effects of altered tryptophan and alcohol were additive,
suggesting that some subjects become aggressive when they
drink because of low serotonin levels. Cleare and Bond
(1995) studied subjects with low or high trait aggression as
measured by the Buss Durkee Hostility Inventory (Buss
and Durkee, 1957). ATD had no effect on subjects with low
trait aggression, but subjects with high aggression showed
greater aggressive responding on the Taylor task and also
became more angry, aggressive, annoyed, hostile and quar-
relsome on subjective measures.
Another measure that has been used is the Point-Sub-
traction Aggression Paradigm. In this test, subjects can press
one of two buttons. The first uses a fixed ratio to add points,
each with a monetary value, to the subject’s total displayed
on a monitor. The second uses a lower fixed ratio to subtract
points from a fictitious opponent and is used as the measure
of aggression. The response to point (monetary) loss, due to
the actions of the opponent, is an important component of
this task.
Using the Point-Subtraction test, ATD increased aggress-
ive responding in unselected male volunteers (Moeller
et al., 1996; Bjork et al., 1999), and the effect was greatest
in those with high trait hostility (Dougherty et al., 1999). In
a recent study, two groups of men with or without a history
of aggression were studied. In the aggressive men, ATD
S.N. Young, M. Leyton / Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 71 (2002) 857–865860
increased aggressive responding, whereas the opposite
occurred in the nonaggressive men (Bjork et al., 2000).
Another study using a questionnaire supported the idea that
trait hostility enhances the response to ATD. The relation-
ship between changes in plasma tryptophan and changes in
hostility was stronger in healthy male subjects with preex-
isting hostile traits than in those with low hostility (Finn
et al., 1998). Two studies in patients also reported increases
in hostile or irritable mood after ATD. The first was on
patients with premenstrual syndrome, who had a suscept-
ibility to irritability (Weltzin et al., 1995). The second was
on patients with bulimia, who showed an increase in
irritability but no change in depressed mood (Weltzin
et al., 1995). While bulimic patients are not necessarily
susceptible to irritability, they may have lowered serotonin
function (Brewerton, 1995).
Not all studies of susceptible subjects have shown an
increase in irritability or aggression after ATD. In patients
with Intermittent Explosive Disorder, ATD did not increase
irritability or events as measured by the Overt Aggression
Scale (Salomon et al., 1994). A second study looked at
sons of male alcoholics in their early 20s, who were
themselves not alcoholic but would have a high probability
of developing alcoholism. In these subjects, ATD did not
change responses on the Taylor Aggression task, although
there was an increase in commission errors on a Go/No Go
task (LeMarquand et al., 1999). This latter finding suggests
an increase in impulsivity due to lowered serotonin, and an
increase in impulsivity in real life situations could lead to
enhanced aggression. However, ATD did not increase Go/
No Go commission errors in adolescent males who had
been aggressive throughout their childhood (LeMarquand
et al., 1998).
While the results on ATD and irritability/aggression do not
present as consistent a picture as those with mood, studies
using both behavioral measures of aggressive responding and
self report measures of irritability indicate that lowered
serotonin can enhance both aggressive feelings and behavior
in some circumstances. Surprisingly, the most aggressive
subjects showed no change. This observation may be ana-
logous to the finding that ATD does not exacerbate symptoms
in currently ill patients with major depressive disorder. More
work will be needed to determine if this is due to ceiling
effects or if more disturbed patients are less susceptible to the
effects of lowered serotonin. In patients with currently
expressed disorders, an aggravation of symptoms may occur
only after alterations of other neuronal systems.
3.2. Tryptophan supplementation
As with ATD, tryptophan supplementation has been
studied more in relation to mood than to irritability/aggres-
sion. However, both acute studies and clinical trials have
been reported in the literature. ATD studies using both the
Taylor task (Pihl et al., 1995) and the Point-Subtraction test
(Bjork et al., 2000) have also included a tryptophan
supplemented group. In this situation, supplementation
refers to levels above that present in the normal control
treatment, which is an amino acid mixture containing the
amount of tryptophan in a good protein source. In both
these studies, there was a gradation of effect, with the
tryptophan-depleted groups showing the greatest aggressive
response and the tryptophan-supplemented group showing
the least response.
Two studies have investigated the possible effect of
tryptophan in pathologically aggressive patients. The first
was performed on aggressive schizophrenics whose behav-
ior was not controlled by neuroleptics (Morand et al., 1983).
Some were on neuroleptics during the study, but none were
taking neuroleptics with significant binding to serotonin
receptors. Tryptophan caused a significant reduction in
uncontrolled behaviors relative to placebo. In the second
study, on aggressive psychiatric inpatients, tryptophan did
not decrease aggressive acts, relative to placebo. However,
the patients required significantly less neuroleptic medica-
tion to control their aggression when they were on trypto-
phan (Volavka et al., 1990).
A recent study has looked at the effect of tryptophan on
two aspects of social behavior in healthy subjects (Mosko-
witz et al., 2001). The event sampling methodology used for
assessing behavior in this study came from the social
science literature on social interaction. While details vary,
typically, interpersonal behaviors are organized in a circle
defined by two major axes (e.g., Carson, 1969; Foa, 1961;
Kiesler, 1983; Leary, 1957; Wiggins, 1995; Wiggins and
Broughton, 1985). One axis encompasses dominant and
submissive behaviors. The second axis encompasses agree-
able and quarrelsome behaviors. These behaviors are
studied using an event sampling method in which subjects
fill in a brief questionnaire about their behavior after each
important social interaction throughout the day. While
behavior along each axis varies greatly from one interaction
to another, after about 70 interactions (six per day for
12 days), mean values settle down to a value that is a
characteristic of the individual. The event sampling method
has several advantages. First, it investigates behavior in
everyday life and avoids the artificiality of laboratory
studies. Second, it minimizes the extent of retrospective
reporting that often occurs with self-report questionnaires
and therefore reduces biases and distortions that alter the
memory of past events. Third, as applied to dominant/
submissive and quarrelsome/agreeable behaviors, it reduces
subjective biases by asking about the behavior of the
individual in the interaction, not the individual’s feelings
about what occurred.
The two axes of human social behavior are similar to
two aspects of social behavior in monkeys often referred
to in the primate literature as dominant/submissive and
agonistic/affiliative. Altered serotonin affects behavior on
both these axes. Treatments that lower serotonergic func-
tion in monkeys tend to increase aggression, while treat-
ments that increase serotonin function not only decrease
S.N. Young, M. Leyton / Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 71 (2002) 857–865 861
aggression but also increase affiliative behaviors such as
grooming (Chamberlain et al., 1987; Raleigh et al., 1980,
1991; Raleigh and McGuire, 1991). Furthermore, serotonin
has also been related to dominant and submissive behav-
iors in monkeys. In monkeys, there is a two-way inter-
action between dominance and serotonin (Higley et al.,
1996a; Raleigh and McGuire, 1991; Raleigh et al., 1984,
1983). In vervet monkey troops, the alpha male has high
platelet and brain serotonin, and these levels fall when
dominance is lost. Conversely, raising brain serotonin
function promotes acquisition of dominance in males
(Raleigh and McGuire, 1991).
In a recent study, tryptophan and placebo were each
given for 12 days to 98 healthy human subjects in a cross-
over design (Moskowitz et al., 2001). Behavior was meas-
ured by the event sampling technique described above.
Relative to placebo, tryptophan caused a significant de-
crease in quarrelsome behaviors, no change in agreeable-
ness, a significant increase in dominant behavior and no
change in submissive behavior. This suggests that serotonin
can influence behaviors along the continuum from verbal
quarrelsomeness to outright physical aggression. Further-
more, it raises the possibility that serotonin is a factor-
regulating dominant behavior in humans.
4. Conclusion
Studies with altered tryptophan levels show conclusively
that such alterations can change both mood and feelings
and/or behavior related to irritability and aggression. The
most plausible explanation for this is that serotonin does
have a direct effect on mood, irritability and aggression. The
relationship works in two different directions, with lowered
serotonin resulting in more negative mood and/or behavior
while increased serotonin levels have the opposite effect.
The effects on mood and aggression seem to be independ-
ent, but this issue has not been studied directly and this
conclusion must remain tentative.
One pervasive theme in most of the studies discussed
above is the susceptibility of some subjects to the effect of
altered tryptophan availability, while other subjects remain
unaffected. This is not surprising. Aspects of mood and
behavior are not under the control of a single neurotrans-
mitter. Effects are seen, presumably, only when the altera-
tion in serotonin function is large enough to overcome the
homeostatic effects of other neurotransmitter systems. One
pertinent question is whether subjects who show an effect of
ATD already have low serotonin, and ATD pushes it below
a critical level. Alternatively, they may have normal sero-
tonin, but alterations in other neurotransmitter systems that
reduce the homeostatic effect that normally operates to
control mood or aggression. This could be tested by
studying whether subjects with demonstrated preexisting
low serotonin levels are particularly responsive to ATD,
but such a study has not yet been done.
Far more studies have been carried out on the effects of
altered tryptophan levels on mood than on aggression. This
presumably reflects in part the fact that simple measures
are available to measure mood changes over both the short
and long term. Measures of aggressive behavior over the
short term suffer from a certain artificiality, while clinical
studies on aggressive subjects are difficult to carry out.
Furthermore, while the relationship between irritability,
aggression and quarrelsomeness seems intuitively obvious,
exactly how they are related is not clear. For example,
irritability would be more likely to lead to verbal or
physical aggression in subjects who were impulsive, but
not all subjects who are quarrelsome are necessarily
impulsive. Nonetheless, the fact that alterations of trypto-
phan levels give consistent results independent of whether
the measure is irritability, a behavioral measure of aggres-
sion, or a self-assessment measure of quarrelsome behavior
during social interactions, suggests that these measures are
all tapping into a similar construct that is partially under
the control of serotonin.
The recent demonstration that tryptophan administration
can alter dominant behavior introduces an additional level
of complexity into the study of the role of serotonin in the
control of human mood and behavior. The increase in
dominance occurred at the same time as a decrease in
quarrelsomeness, raising the possibility that higher sero-
tonin levels may be associated with more constructive social
interactions. In monkeys, low levels of the serotonin metab-
olite 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid in the cerebrospinal fluid
are associated with low social status and inappropriate
aggression (Higley et al., 1996a,b). While it would be
interesting to know if lowered serotonin leads to more
submissive, albeit more aggressive, behaviors in humans,
there is no suitable method to look at behavior along the
dominant/submissive axis in humans over the short time
period of an ATD study.
The results discussed above suggest that low serotonin is
involved in the etiology of depression and pathological
aggression in some patients. How a possible role of sero-
tonin as a modulator of dominant/submissive behavior fits
in with this is not known. A decline in feelings of sub-
missiveness, if this were to occur in patients treated with
SSRIs, could possibly help to attenuate feelings of depres-
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S.N. Young, M. Leyton / Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 71 (2002) 857–865 865
... Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine ) is an ancient biochemical that acts in the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system [1]. In the central nervous system, 5-HT is a neurotransmitter, which affects mood, appetite, sleep, and memory [2][3][4][5]. An imbalance in the serotonin system in the central nervous system has been implicated in a multitude of neuropsychiatric diseases. ...
... Molecules 2022, 27, x FOR PEER REVIEW 2 of 22 5-HT is a neurotransmitter, which affects mood, appetite, sleep, and memory [2][3][4][5]. An imbalance in the serotonin system in the central nervous system has been implicated in a multitude of neuropsychiatric diseases. ...
... Tyrosine, which is similar to pCPA, was selected as the starting material because it is suitable for derivatization. The general methods for the synthesis of oxy-phenylalanine derivatives are outlined in Scheme 1. Commercially available L-tyrosine (1) was first esterified, and Boc-anhydride was then introduced to provide Boc protection, which yielded compound 2. Compound 2 was subsequently coupled with 7-bromo-4-chlorothieno [3,2d] pyrimidine (3) to yield compound 4. Compound 4 was treated with NaOH and subjected to Boc deprotection with HCl (4 M) in 1,4-dioxane to give compound 6. Compound 4 also underwent Suzuki coupling with 3-hydroxyphenylboronic acid (5a) and 4-hydroxyphenylboronic acid (5b) in the presence of a palladium catalyst to afford compounds 7a Oh et al. [7] reported that serotonin regulates white and brown adipose tissue function. ...
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Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptophan) is a hormone that regulates emotions in the central nervous system. However, serotonin in the peripheral system is associated with obesity and fatty liver disease. Because serotonin cannot cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB), we focused on identifying new tryptophan hydroxylase type I (TPH1) inhibitors that act only in peripheral tissues for treating obesity and fatty liver disease without affecting the central nervous system. Structural optimization inspired by para-chlorophenylalanine (pCPA) resulted in the identification of a series of oxyphenylalanine and heterocyclic phenylalanine derivatives as TPH1 inhibitors. Among these compounds, compound 18i with an IC50 value of 37 nM was the most active in vitro. Additionally, compound 18i showed good liver microsomal stability and did not significantly inhibit CYP and Herg. Furthermore, this TPH1 inhibitor was able to actively interact with the peripheral system without penetrating the BBB. Compound 18i and its prodrug reduced body weight gain in mammals and decreased in vivo fat accumulation.
... Due to his depressed frame of mind, he may be drawn to foods that encourage serotonin production, like sugar-rich and refined carbohydrate foodstuffs-so-called "comfort food" (Inam et al., 2016). Serotonin plays an important role in regulating one's mood (Young and Leyton, 2002;Jenkins et al., 2016), even to such a degree that an imbalance of serotonin may contribute to depression (Carr and Lucki, 2010;Jones et al., 2020). Hence, such food cravings may be an immunological attempt to restore the bodily homeostatic balance. ...
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Not all our intentions translate into actions, as our capacity to act may be influenced by a variety of mental and biochemical factors. In this article, we present a comprehensive account of how neuro-immunological processes affect our intentional abilities and our capacity to act. We do so by extending the theory of thought-shapers (TTS) through the notion of action-shapers and combining this theory with the essential embodiment thesis (EE). This thesis about the mind-body relation says that human minds are necessarily and completely embodied. Action-shapers dynamically constitute the action-space of individuals, affecting their capacity to take action or to select one course of action over another. We highlight the effects and interactions of neuro-immunological effective processes in the body to demonstrate how they shape the action-space. In this article, we consider neuro-immunological effective processes that influence the gut-brain axis, chronic stress, high levels of sugar intake, the amygdala and the effects of prolonged stress. We investigate the effects of these processes on the perception and on the capacity to form intentions and act on them. We conclude the paper by providing a concise account of action-shapers, in which we attempt to summarize the line of argumentation and provide suggestions for further research.
... Trp supplementation, either dietary or non-nutritional, has been experimentally investigated and proposed to ameliorate neurological disturbances and social behavior in humans by increasing 5-HT production, but its clinical effect is still controversial and prone to genetic variations [257][258][259][260][261][262][263][264][265]. In addition, potential side effects of excessive Trp intake should be evaluated in different clinical settings [266]. ...
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Despite intense investigation, the pathogenesis of COVID-19 and the newly defined long COVID-19 syndrome are not fully understood. Increasing evidence has been provided of metabolic alterations characterizing this group of disorders, with particular relevance of an activated tryptophan/kynurenine pathway as described in this review. Recent histological studies have documented that, in COVID-19 patients, indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) enzymes are differentially expressed in the pulmonary blood vessels, i.e., IDO1 prevails in early/mild pneumonia and in lung tissues from patients suffering from long COVID-19, whereas IDO2 is predominant in severe/fatal cases. We hypothesize that IDO1 is necessary for a correct control of the vascular tone of pulmonary vessels, and its deficiency in COVID-19 might be related to the syndrome’s evolution toward vascular dysfunction. The complexity of this scenario is discussed in light of possible therapeutic manipulations of the tryptophan/kynurenine pathway in COVID-19 and post-acute COVID-19 syndromes.
... 5-HT is a monoamine neurotransmitter that regulates various physiological functions in the central and periphery (gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system, immune system, endocrine system, etc.). By acting as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system (CNS), 5-HT regulates mood [12], sleep-wake behavior [13], and appetite [14]. ...
Objective: To investigate associations between baseline serum serotonin levels and short- and long-term treatment outcomes in outpatients with depressive disorders in a naturalistic one-year prospective study design. Methods: Patients were recruited at a University hospital in South Korea from March 2012 to April 2017. At baseline, blood samples were obtained from 1,094 patients who received initial antidepressant monotherapy (Step 1). After the Step 1 treatment, further treatment steps (at least Steps 2-4) could be administered every 3 weeks during the acute treatment phase (3, 6, 9, and 12 weeks; n = 1,086), and every 3 months during the continuation treatment phase (6, 9, and 12 months; n = 884). In cases showing an insufficient response or intolerable side effects, patients were asked to choose whether to remain at the current step or enter the next treatment step, with alternative strategies including switching, augmentation, combination, and a mixture of these approaches. Remission was defined as a Hamilton Depression Rating Scale score of ≤ 7. Results: The remission group had significantly higher baseline serum serotonin levels among patients who received Step 1 monotherapy in both acute and continuation treatment phases. These associations remained significant after adjustment for relevant covariates. No associations were found with any other treatment steps. Conclusion: Baseline serum serotonin levels may be used as a biomarker for predicting short- and long-term treatment outcomes in antidepressant monotherapy-treated patients with depressive disorders in a real-world clinical setting.
... DA and SE are two important neurotransmitters that help in brainbody message transfer as well as regulation of physiological and behavioural functions [12,13]. Deficiency of DA cause conditions such as schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease. ...
Here we report the surface modification of oxidized carbon nanotubes (oCNTs) pre-modified on a glassy carbon electrode (GCE) with electrodeposited curcumin (CM) as a metal-free platform for simultaneous detection of dopamine (DA) and serotonin (SE). CM dissolved in an alkaline medium, was electrodeposited on various carbon-based materials and its activity towards detection of DA and SE was verified. Excellent synergy was observed between CM and oCNT towards simultaneous detection of DA and SE in phosphate buffer saline PBS (pH 7) at 0.2 V and 0.34 V, respectively. DFT calculations also showed higher stabilization energy of the oxidized CM i.e., curcumin semiquinone (CMQ) with oCNT (3.35 eV) compared to bare CNT (2.87 eV). The CM-oCNT on a glassy carbon electrode (GCE) exhibited 4.42 times higher surface area and 60 times higher anodic current compared to bare GCE towards highly selective oxidative response of DA and SE with a potential difference of 158 mV. Linear calibration curves were obtained for DA and SE ranging from 10 to 170 μM and 10–130 μM, respectively, with nanomolar levels of sensitivity. The research outcomes point towards possible metal-free combinations of organic moieties and carbon materials for detection of vital biomolecules in the future.
The importance of nutrients in our diet is becoming increasingly recognized. From the viewpoint of protein synthesis and other physiologic and metabolic functions, all amino acids are important, but some of these amino acids are not synthesized endogenously. This subset, called essential amino acids, comprise dietarily indispensable nutrients. Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, is the sole precursor of neuronal as well as peripheral serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine). Its systemic or oral administration increases serotonin synthesis because tryptophan hydroxylase, the rate-limiting enzyme of 5-hydroxytryptamine biosynthesis, is physiologically unsaturated with its substrate. Central serotonin is implicated in a number of psychiatric illnesses, including depression, and in responses to stress. Acting peripherally, serotonin affects vasoconstriction, intestinal motility, control of T cell–mediated immunity, and liver and pancreatic functions. Depression and diabetes are 2 highly prevalent diseases that often coexist. There is evidence that occurrence of depression is 2–3 times higher in people with diabetes mellitus. A comorbid condition of diabetes and depression worsens the treatment and increases risk for death. Stress, known for its causal role in depression, can also enhance risk for diabetes. Stress-induced decreases in the circulating levels of tryptophan can impair brain and pancreatic serotonin-dependent functions to precipitate these diseases. The importance of tryptophan supplementation for improving therapeutic intervention in depression and diabetes is the focus of this article. A deficiency of this essential amino acid may enhance risk for depression as well as diabetes, and can also weaken treatment efficacy of medicinal compounds for treating these diseases. Guidelines for optimal levels of circulating tryptophan can help if supplements of this amino acid can improve treatment efficacy.
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Adequate serotonin levels are pivotal to human well-being; thus, serotonin can be used as a biomarker because it regulates a wide range of physical and psychological functions. As an imbalance of serotonin is highly likely to initiate the pathogenesis of various disorders, monitoring serotonin levels in real time is in high demand for the early detection of disease. We fabricated a field-effect transistor (FET) biosensor based on aptamer-immobilized conducting polymer nanohybrids, which showed an instantaneous response toward serotonin in solution. The mechanism of serotonin detection was based on aptamer deformation after aptamer-ligand interaction and the consequential decrease in the charge carrier density of the FET template. Docking simulations with AutoDock/Vina and PyMOL were successfully used to investigate the binding site of serotonin in the loop structure of the aptamer. The fabricated FET template showed high sensitivity toward serotonin in the range of 10 fM to 100 nM, and the limit of detection (LOD) was exceptionally low at 10 fM. Moreover, the selectivity toward serotonin was confirmed by observing no signal after the injection of structural analogs, functional analogs and excess physiological biomolecules. The potential clinical application of this sensor was confirmed because it remained consistent when the buffer solution was exchanged for artificial serum or artificial cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). † S.G.L. and S.E.S. contributed equally to this work.
It is of considerable importance to develop a ratiometric fluorescence sensor with high efficiency and good sensitivity in biosensing. In this work, a ratiometric fluorescence sensor was constructed by incorporating Tb³⁺ in situ into a bismuth-based metal-organic framework (Tb³⁺-NOTT-220) and subsequently utilized for rapid and sensitive detection of serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine) in serum media. When serotonin was exposed to the sensor, the energy transfer from the ligand to Tb³⁺ was inhibited upon addition of serotonin, which is accompanied by the increase in the fluorescence intensity of the ligand and reduce in the fluorescence intensity of Tb³⁺. Thus, a ratiometric fluorescence assay can be established by virtue of Tb³⁺ and ligand as the recognition site for quantitative serotonin detection. The developed sensor exhibited good selectivity and sensitivity to serotonin with the limit of detection of 0.57 μM and 1.21 μM in water and serum, respectively. Furthermore, the application of fluorescent hydrogel provides an effective scheme for rapid and portable determination of serotonin. The ratiometric fluorescence sensing system presents a new strategy for simple, reliable and on-site determination of serotonin.
In mammals, behavioral activity is regulated both by the circadian system, orchestrated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), and by arousal structures, including the serotonergic system. While the SCN is active at the same astronomical time in diurnal and nocturnal species, little data are available concerning the serotonergic (5HT) system in diurnal mammals. In this study, we investigated the functioning of the 5HT system, which is involved both in regulating the sleep/wake cycle and in synchronizing the SCN, in a diurnal rodent, Arvicanthis ansorgei. Using in situ hybridization, we characterized the anatomical extension of the raphe nuclei and we investigated 24 h mRNA levels of the serotonin rate‐limiting enzyme, tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (tph2). Under both 12 h:12 h light/dark (LD) and constant darkness (DD) conditions, tph2 mRNA expression varies significantly over 24 h, displaying a bimodal profile with higher values around the (projected) light transitions. Furthermore, we considered several SCN outputs, namely melatonin, corticosterone, and locomotor activity. In both LD and DD, melatonin profiles display peak levels during the biological night. Corticosterone plasma levels show a bimodal rhythmic profile in both conditions, with higher levels preceding the two peaks of Arvicanthis locomotor activity, occurring at dawn and dusk. These data demonstrate that serotonin synthesis in Arvicanthis is rhythmic and reflects its bimodal behavioral phenotype, but differs from what has been previously described in nocturnal species.
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The title compound, serotonin or 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) [systematic name: 3-(2-aminoethyl)-1 H -indol-5-ol], C 10 H 12 N 2 O, has one molecule in the asymmetric unit. The conformation of the ethylamino side chain is gauche – gauche [C a —C a —C m —C m and C a —C m —C m —N (a = aromatic, m = methylene) torsion angles = −64.2 (3) and −61.9 (2)°, respectively]. In the crystal, the molecules are linked into a three-dimensional network by N—H...O and O—H...N hydrogen bonds.
• In a double-blind study of 24 patients with endogenous depression, a group treated with clomipramine hydrochloride (chlorimipramine) plus tryptophan was compared with a group treated with clomipramine plus placebo. The sum of the ratings for depressed mood, suicidal intent, depressive thought content, and anxiety showed a more rapid improvement in the former group, the difference being already significant after 12 days of treatment. On the other hand, the ratings for retardation decreased about equally in both groups during the three-week treatment period. Side-effect ratings showed no significant increase but seemed to be partly influenced by the improvement of depressive symptoms. Plasma levels of clomipramine appeared to reach a plateau within a few days, whereas the monodesmethylated metabolite continued to rise for a longer period of time, and reached considerably higher values than the parent compound. In the tryptophan group the degree of improvement seemed to be positively correlated to these levels, suggesting that further improvement might have been reached in some patients by increasing the dose of clomipramine. The levels of 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid in the cerebrospinal fluid appeared to be reduced by clomipramine administration. This effect was prevented by the additional treatment with tryptophan.
Delgado et al1 have reported that acute tryptophan depletion reversed antidepressantinduced remission in patients with major depression; the reappearance of depressive symptoms was more often observed in depressed patients treated with serotonergic antidepressants. In their study, five of the 21 patients investigated were treated with a combination of antidepressant (desipramine hydrochloride, fluvoxamine) and lithium carbonate. We adopted a similar paradigm to investigate the extent to which the same effect would be seen in patients with affective disorder who were treated with lithium only. Clinically, lithium displays a unique pharmacological profile: weak intrinsic antidepressant properties, useful as an augmenting agent to potentiate the effectiveness of other antidepressants, antimanic, and mood stabilizer. The molecular effects mediating these various pharmacological properties are complex and almost certainly involve multiple neurotransmitters, transduction mechanisms, and/or second messenger systems. One current theory is that lithium exerts some of its therapeutic effects, ie, potentiation of antidepressant treatments