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Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1994 Sep;51(9):687-97.

Mood-lowering effect of tryptophan depletion. Enhanced susceptibility in young men at genetic risk for major affective disorders.

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Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.



A double-blind placebo-controlled cross-over study in which plasma tryptophan was manipulated by administration of a tryptophan-deficient amino acid mixture. In the placebo condition, all subjects received a nutritionally balanced amino acid mixture that contained tryptophan. To further standardize baseline amino acids, each subject was provided with a low-protein diet the day before amino acid challenges. Subjects were euthymic, healthy men aged 18 to 30 years with either a multigenerational family history of affective illness or no family history of psychiatric illness in the present or in the two previous generations. Each subject was screened with a structured clinical interview to rule out a personal history of psychiatric illness.


Plasma tryptophan was reduced by 89% 5 hours after the administration of the tryptophan-deficient amino acid mixture. Six of 20 subjects with a family history of affective illness and none of 19 subjects without a family history of psychiatric illness showed a lowering of mood of 10 or more points on the Profile of Mood States depression scale (P = .012, Fisher's Exact Test) 5 hours after tryptophan depletion. No significant mood changes were observed following the control treatment (balanced amino acid mixture) in either group.


Our data support the hypothesis that subjects with no prior depressive episodes but with a multigenerational family history of major affective disorder show a greater reduction in mood after tryptophan depletion. They are also consistent with theories that implicate deficient serotonergic function as one possible etiological factor in major depressive disorders.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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