The role of serotonin in human mood and social interaction. Insight from altered tryptophan levels

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2002 Apr;71(4):857-65. doi: 10.1016/s0091-3057(01)00670-0.


Alterations in brain tryptophan levels cause changes in brain serotonin synthesis, and this has been used to study the implication of altered serotonin levels in humans. In the acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) technique, subjects ingest a mixture of amino acids devoid of tryptophan. This results in a transient decline in tissue tryptophan and in brain serotonin. ATD can result in lower mood and increase in irritability or aggressive responding. The magnitude of the effect varies greatly depending on the susceptibility of the subject to lowered mood or aggressivity. Unlike ATD, tryptophan can be given chronically. Tryptophan is an antidepressant in mild to moderate depression and a small body of data suggests that it can also decrease aggression. Preliminary data indicate that tryptophan also increases dominant behavior during social interactions. Overall, studies manipulating tryptophan levels support the idea that low serotonin can predispose subjects to mood and impulse control disorders. Higher levels of serotonin may help to promote more constructive social interactions by decreasing aggression and increasing dominance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation / metabolism
  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Serotonin / physiology*
  • Tryptophan / metabolism*
  • Tryptophan / physiology
  • Tryptophan / therapeutic use


  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation
  • Serotonin
  • Tryptophan