Acute tryptophan depletion (ATD), a method to temporarily lower central serotonin levels, has been used to study the functioning of the serotonergic system. Relatively recent studies that examined the effects of ATD on brain activation associated with cognitive and emotional processing in healthy volunteers are reviewed. An overview of the findings in healthy volunteers is important for the interpretation of the effect of ATD on brain activation in patients with an affective disorder, such as major depression. These studies show that during response control and negative feedback processing ATD modulates the BOLD response in the inferior/orbitofrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. During emotional processing, it is consistently found that ATD modulates the BOLD response in the amygdala. These brain regions also show abnormal activation in depressed patients. However, at the moment it remains unclear if the changes induced by ATD are related to decreased basal serotonin (5-HT) release or the result of other biochemical changes that are mediated by ATD. Future studies should implement methodological improvements, explore the possibilities of new promising imaging techniques and expand investigations into the effects of ATD on basal 5-HT release and other biochemical mechanisms that might be modulated by ATD.