Treatment of brain disease with dietary precursors of neurotransmitters

Ann Intern Med. 1977 Mar;86(3):337-9. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-86-3-337.


A growing number of brain diseases are characterized by decreased levels of one or more of the neurotransmitters. Recent experimental evidence indicates that nutritional factors strongly influence the regulation of two of these neurotransmitters, serotonin and acetylcholine. As a result, attempts are now being made to treat diseases associated with low levels of serotonin or acetylcholine by administering their dietary precursors, tryptophan and choline, respectively. This treatment may increase the amount of the deficient neurotransmitter at synapses and produce clinical benefit. Such efforts to elevate brain neurotransmitter levels with a naturally occurring precursor represent a new approach in medical therapeutics and will probably continue. We review the scientific basis for such treatment and show that brain levels of serotonin and acetylcholine depend upon the amounts of tryptophan and choline available to the brain; these, in turn, fluctuate according to dietary factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain Diseases / diet therapy*
  • Choline / metabolism
  • Choline / therapeutic use*
  • Dietary Proteins / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Tryptophan / metabolism
  • Tryptophan / therapeutic use*


  • Dietary Proteins
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Serotonin
  • Tryptophan
  • Choline
  • Acetylcholine