A number of techniques temporarily lower the functioning of monoamines: acute tryptophan depletion (ATD), alpha-methyl-para-tyrosine (AMPT) and acute phenylalanine/tyrosine depletion (APTD). This paper reviews the results of monoamine depletion studies in humans for the period 1966 until December 2002. The evidence suggests that all three interventions are specific, in terms of their short-term effects on one or two neurotransmitter systems, rather than on brain protein metabolism in general. The AMPT procedure is somewhat less specific, affecting both the dopamine and norepinephrine systems. The behavioral effects of ATD and AMPT are remarkably similar. Neither procedure has an immediate effect on the symptoms of depressed patients; however, both induce transient depressive symptoms in some remitted depressed patients. The magnitude of the effects, response rate and quality of response are also comparable. APTD has not been studied in recovered major depressive patients. Despite the similarities, the effects are distinctive in that ATD affects a subgroup of recently remitted patients treated with serotonergic medications, whereas AMPT affects recently remitted patients treated with noradrenergic medications. The evidence also suggests that ATD and APTD affect different cognitive functions, in particular different memory systems. Few studies investigated cognitive effects of the procedures in patients. Patients who are in remission for longer may also be vulnerable to ATD and AMPT, but the relationship with prior treatment is much weaker. For these patients, individual vulnerability markers are the more important determinants of depressive response, making these techniques potentially useful models of vulnerability to depression.