It has been reported that in panic disorder (PD), tryptophan depletion enhances the vulnerability to experimentally induced panic, while the administration of serotonin precursors blunts the response to challenges. Using a high-dose carbon dioxide (CO2) challenge, we aimed to investigate the effects of acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) and acute tryptophan loading (ATL) on CO2-induced panic response in healthy volunteers. Eighteen healthy volunteers participated in a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Each subject received ATD, ATL, and a balanced condition (BAL) in separate days, and a double-breath 35% CO2 inhalation 4.5 h after treatment. Tryptophan (Trp) manipulations were obtained adding 0 g (ATD), 1.21 g (BAL), and 5.15 g (ATL) of l-tryptophan to a protein mixture lacking Trp. Assessments consisted of a visual analogue scale for affect (VAAS) and panic symptom list. A separate analysis on a sample of 55 subjects with a separate-group design has also been performed to study the relationship between plasma amino acid levels and subjective response to CO2. CO2-induced subjective distress and breathlessness were significantly lower after ATD compared to BAL and ATL (p <0.05). In the separate-group analysis, Delta VAAS scores were positively correlated to the ratio Trp:I LNAA pound after treatment (r = 0.39; p <0.05). The present results are in line with preclinical data indicating a role for the serotonergic system in promoting the aversive respiratory sensations to hypercapnic stimuli (Richerson, Nat Rev Neurosci 5(6):449-461, 2004). The differences observed in our study, compared to previous findings in PD patients, might depend on an altered serotonergic modulatory function in patients compared to healthy subjects.
- Carbon dioxide
- CO2 challenge