Differential effects of tri-allelic 5-HTTLPR polymorphisms in healthy subjects on mood and stress performance after tryptophan challenge

C.R. Markus*, C. Firk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Earlier data suggest that a polymorphism at the serotonin (5-HT) transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) may affect depression particularly in the face of stress due to interactions between 5-HT vulnerability and stress exposure. However, this interaction between 5-HT transporter-linked transcriptional promoter region (5-HTTLPR), 5-HT vulnerability and the affective effects of stress exposure has not yet been investigated. As participants with short-allele 5-HTTLPR genotypes may exhibit enhanced 5-HT vulnerability, this study examines the effects of tryptophan challenge on stress reactivity and performance in healthy participants with S'/S' vs L'/L' genotypes. Sixteen healthy subjects with homozygotic short alleles (S'/S'=S/L(G,) L(G)/L(G)) and 14 subjects with homozygotic long alleles (L'/L'=L(A)/L(A)) of the 5-HTTLPR were tested in a double-blind placebo-controlled design under acute stress exposure following tryptophan challenge or placebo. Although there were no 5-HTTLPR-related differences in stress responses, significant beneficial effects of tryptophan challenge on mood and stress performance were exclusively found in participants with S'/S' genotypes. These findings suggest greater brain 5-HT vulnerability to tryptophan manipulations in participants with S'/S' as compared with L'/L' 5-HTTLPR genotypes. This apparent genetic 5-HT vulnerability may become a meaningful risk factor for depression when brain 5-HT falls below functional need in the face of real severe stressful life events.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2667-2674
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009

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