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The present study examined the effects of acute tryptophan (Trp) depletion (ATD), a well-recognized method to lower central serotonin (5-HT) metabolism, on brain activation during a facial emotion perception task. Brain activation was measured using fMRI, and healthy female volunteers with a positive family history of unipolar depression (FH+) were compared to healthy female volunteers without such a history (FH-). Participants viewed two morphed faces and were instructed to choose between the faces based either on the intensity of the emotional expression (direct task) or the gender of the face (incidental task). In the FH+ group, depletion led to the expected lowering of mood, which partly determined the effect of depletion on performance and brain activation. A stronger mood lowering effect was associated with less accurate performance on faces expressing a negative emotion in the incidental task and a stronger right amygdala response to fearful faces in comparison to happy faces. These results were explained in terms of a mood-induced bias leading to a stronger impact of the expressed negative emotion which subsequently leads to more interference in the incidental task and a stronger amygdala response. It was concluded that the effects of ATD on mood, performance, and brain activation in a facial emotion perception task depend on family history of depression. Performance and brain activation partly depend on the effect of ATD on mood.Neuropsychopharmacology advance online publication, 4 October 2006; doi:10.1038/sj.npp.1301212.