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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 Jul;37(8):1963-71. doi: 10.1038/npp.2012.43. Epub 2012 Apr 11.

Acute tryptophan depletion increases translational indices of anxiety but not fear: serotonergic modulation of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis?

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1
Section on Neurobiology of Fear and Anxiety, National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA. oliver.j.robinson@gmail.com

Abstract

Serotonin is strongly implicated in the mammalian stress response, but surprisingly little is known about its mode of action. Recent data suggest that serotonin can inhibit aversive responding in humans, but this remains underspecified. In particular, data in rodents suggest that global serotonin depletion may specifically increase long-duration bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST)-mediated aversive responses (ie, anxiety), but not short-duration BNST-independent responses (ie, fear). Here, we extend these findings to humans. In a balanced, placebo-controlled crossover design, healthy volunteers (n=20) received a controlled diet with and without the serotonin precursor tryptophan (acute tryptophan depletion; ATD). Aversive states were indexed by translational acoustic startle measures. Fear and anxiety were operationally defined as the increase in startle reactivity during short- and long-duration threat periods evoked by predictable shock (fear-potentiated startle) and by the context in which the shocks were administered (anxiety-potentiated startle), respectively. ATD significantly increased long-duration anxiety-potentiated startle but had no effect on short-duration fear-potentiated startle. These results suggest that serotonin depletion in humans selectively increases anxiety but not fear. Current translational frameworks support the proposition that ATD thus disinhibits dorsal raphé-originating serotonergic control of corticotropin-releasing hormone-mediated excitation of the BNST. This generates a candidate neuropharmacological mechanism by which depleted serotonin may increase response to sustained threats, alongside clear implications for our understanding of the manifestation and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders.

PMID:
22491355
PMCID:
PMC3376328
DOI:
10.1038/npp.2012.43
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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