Tryptophan depletion impairs memory consolidation but improves focussed attention in healthy young volunteers

J.A.J. Schmitt*, B.L. Jorissen, S. Sobczak, M.P.J. van Boxtel, E. Hogervorst, N.E.P. Deutz, W.J. Riedel

*Corresponding author for this work

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Animal and human studies have provided evidence for serotonergic modulation of cognitive processes. However, the exact nature of this relationship is not clear. We used the acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) method to investigate the effects of lowered serotonin synthesis on cognitive functions in 17 healthy young volunteers. The study was conducted according to a placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover design. Cognitive performance and mood were assessed at baseline and 5 and 9 h after administration of ATD. A specific impairment of word recognition, without effects on short-term memory, occurred during ATD. No memory deficits were seen if ATD was induced after acquisition of new words. The Stroop Test and dichotic listening task demonstrated a modality independent improvement of focussed attention after ATD. Fluency was also improved after ATD. ATD did not alter speed of information processing, divided attention or planning functions. These results indicate that serotonin is essential in the process of long-term memory consolidation, primarily in the first 30 min after acquisition. Improvement of specific cognitive processes by lowered 5-HT function may be linked to the removal of inhibitory actions of 5-HT in the cortex.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-29
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2000


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