Rationale Acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) is a widely used method to study the role of serotonin (5-HT) in affect and cognition. ATD results in a strong but transient decrease in plasma tryptophan and central 5-HT synthesis and availability. Although its use is widespread, the evidence that the numerous functional effects of ATD are caused by actual changes in 5-HT neuronal release is not very strong. Thus far, decreases in 5-HT efflux (thought to reflect synaptic release) were only reported after chronic tryptophan depletion or when ATD was combined with blockade of 5-HT reuptake. Objective With the current experiment, we aimed to study the validity of the method of ATD by measuring the extent to which it reduces the efflux of 5-HT (and dopamine) in the prefrontal cortex in the absence of reuptake blockage. Materials and methods We simultaneously measured in freely moving animals plasma tryptophan via a catheter in the jugular vein and 5-HT and DA efflux in the medial prefrontal cortex through microdialysis after ATD treatment. Results ATD reduced plasma tryptophan to less than 30% of control, without affecting 5-HT or DA efflux in the prefrontal cortex, indicating that even strong reductions of plasma tryptophan do not necessarily result in decreases in central 5-HT efflux. Conclusion The present experiment showed that reductions in plasma tryptophan, similar to values associated with behavioural effects, do not necessarily reduce 5-HT efflux and suggest that the cognitive and behavioural effects of ATD may not be (exclusively) due to alterations in 5-HT release.
van der Plasse, G., Meerkerk, D. T., Lieben, C. K., Blokland, A., & Feenstra, M. G. (2007). Lack of evidence for reduced prefrontal cortical serotonin and dopamine efflux after acute tryptophan depletion. Psychopharmacology, 195, 377-385. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-007-0908-7