Tryptophan depletion and emotional processing in healthy volunteers at high risk for depression

Adriana Feder, Jamie Skipper, James R. Blair, Katherine Buchholz, Sanjay J. Mathew, Markus Schwarz, John T. Doucette, Angelique Alonso, Katherine A. Collins, Alexander Neumeister, Dennis S. Charney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Background: Studies in depressed patients have demonstrated the presence of emotional bias toward negative stimuli, as well as dysregulated brain serotonin function. The present study compared the effects of acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) on both an emotional processing and a planning task in never-depressed healthy volunteers at high and low familial risk for depression. Methods: Young adults with no personal psychiatric history were stratified into two groups based on family history (n = 25). Participants were enrolled in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover ATD study and completed the affective go/no-go and Tower of London tasks once during each condition. Results: There was a significant treatment by valence by group interaction on the affective go/no-go, driven primarily by a greater frequency of inappropriate responses to sad than to happy distracters in the high-risk group during ATD. No group differences were observed on the Tower of London. Conclusions: Asymptomatic individuals at high familial risk for depression showed abnormalities in emotional processing while undergoing experimentally induced tryptophan depletion. These findings support emotional processing disturbances as potential trait-level abnormalities associated with the risk of mood disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)804-807
Number of pages4
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 15 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Affective go/no-go
  • emotional processing
  • family history
  • high risk
  • major depression
  • tryptophan depletion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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