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J Psychopharmacol. 2012 Nov;26(11):1434-42. doi: 10.1177/0269881112442789. Epub 2012 Apr 10.

Serotonin transporter genotype differentially modulates neural responses to emotional words following tryptophan depletion in patients recovered from depression and healthy volunteers.

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Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, UK.


Previous studies have suggested that polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) influences responses to serotonergic manipulation, with opposite effects in patients recovered from depression (rMDD) and controls. Here we sought to clarify the neurocognitive mechanisms underpinning these surprising results. Twenty controls and 23 rMDD subjects completed the study; functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and genotype data were available for 17 rMDD subjects and 16 controls. Following tryptophan or sham depletion, subjects performed an emotional-processing task during fMRI. Although no genotype effects on mood were identified, significant genotype*diagnosis*depletion interactions were observed in the hippocampus and subgenual cingulate in response to emotionally valenced words. In both regions, tryptophan depletion increased responses to negative words, relative to positive words, in high-expression controls, previously identified as being at low-risk for mood change following this procedure. By contrast, in higher-risk low-expression controls and high-expression rMDD subjects, tryptophan depletion had the opposite effect. Increased neural responses to negative words following tryptophan depletion may reflect an adaptive mechanism promoting resilience to mood change following perturbation of the serotonin system, which is reversed in sub-groups vulnerable to developing depressive symptoms. However, this interpretation is complicated by our failure to replicate previous findings of increased negative mood following tryptophan depletion.

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