Influence of sex and estrous cycle on the effects of acute tryptophan depletion induced by a gelatin-based mixture in adult Wistar rats

L.A. Jans*, C.K. Lieben, A. Blokland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Women are more vulnerable to develop depression and anxiety disorders than men. This may be related to higher serotonergic vulnerability in women. Serotonergic vulnerability entails that differences between people in the regulation of serotonin (5-HT) determine the vulnerability of an individual to develop depression or other 5-HT-related disorders. The aim of the present experiment was to evaluate whether male and female Wistar rats differ in serotonergic vulnerability. Here, a stronger behavioral response to acute tryptophan (TRP) depletion was assumed to reflect serotonergic vulnerability. Twenty-four male and 48 female rats were repeatedly subjected to treatment with a gelatin-based protein-carbohydrate mixture, either with or without L-tryptophan. Female estrous cycle phase was determined by means of vaginal smears and the females were divided into two groups based on their estrous cycle phase: pro-estrus/estrus and met-estrus/di-estrus. Blood samples showed stronger TRP depletion in males than females. There was no effect of estrous cycle on plasma TRP concentrations. In contrast, treatment effects on some brain TRP concentrations were influenced by estrous cycle phase, females in pro-estrus/estrus showed the strongest response to TRP depletion. In the open field test and home cage emergence test, females in pro-estrus/estrus also showed the strongest behavioral response to acute TRP depletion. In general, females showed more activity than males in anxiety-related situations and this effect appeared to be enhanced by TRP depletion. In the social interaction test, passive body contact in males and females in pro-estrus/estrus was decreased after TRP depletion whereas it was increased in females in the met-estrus/di-estrus phase. Acute TRP depletion affected object recognition, but did not affect behavior in the forced swimming test and a reaction time task. It is concluded that sex and estrous cycle phase can influence the behavioral response to TRP depletion, and that females in pro-estrus/estrus show the strongest behavioral response to acute TRP depletion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)304-317
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007

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