Results of an earlier study in healthy volunteers suggest that the serotonergic system is involved in anxiety-related mechanisms. We studied the influence of tryptophan depletion on the response to a 35% carbon dioxide challenge. Twenty-four panic disorder patients received a mixture of amino acids, either with or without tryptophan, under double-blind conditions. There was a significant increase in anxiety as well as in neurovegetative symptoms in the depletion group, compared to the placebo condition. Furthermore, when we compare the results of the placebo group with earlier panic provocation studies, it also seems that a balanced amino acid mixture might have a protective effect against a panic provocation. We conclude that the panic-enhancing effect of tryptophan depletion as well as the potential protective effect of tryptophan administration in panic disorder patients can be explained by the Deakin-Graeff theory of anxiety.