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Biol Psychiatry. 2005 Nov 15;58(10):825-30. Epub 2005 Jul 18.

Effects of tryptophan depletion on the serotonin transporter in healthy humans.

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Vivian M. Rakoff PET Imaging Centre, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.



Lowering of brain serotonin by acute tryptophan depletion (TD) frequently leads to transient symptoms of depression in vulnerable individuals but not in euthymic healthy subjects with a negative family history of depression. The effects of TD on regional serotonin transporter binding potential (5-HTT BP), an index of 5-HTT density and affinity, were studied in healthy individuals using 3-(11)C-amino-4-(2-dimethylaminomethylphenylsulfanyl)benzonitrile ([11C]DASB) positron emission tomography (PET). Adaptive decreases in 5-HTT density and/or affinity during TD would be a possible compensatory mechanism to maintain sufficient extracellular serotonin levels during TD, thereby preventing a depressive relapse.


Regional noninvasive 5-HTT BP was found in 25 healthy subjects using [11C]DASB PET. Fourteen subjects were scanned twice, once after TD and once after sham depletion, and 11 other healthy subjects were scanned twice to measure test-retest reliability of the method.


None of the healthy subjects experienced depressive symptoms during TD and there was no difference in regional 5-HTT BP during TD as compared with sham depletion.


Acute changes in 5-HTT density or affinity are unlikely to play a role in protecting healthy subjects against mood symptoms during TD. Other mechanisms that may be associated with greater resilience against acute lowering of extracellular serotonin should be explored to gain further insight into the neurochemical basis of different vulnerabilities to short-term depressive relapse.

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