Effects of tyrosine/phenylalanine depletion on electrophysiological correlates of memory in healthy volunteers

J Psychopharmacol. 2011 Feb;25(2):230-8. doi: 10.1177/0269881109348160. Epub 2009 Nov 25.


Dopamine is well known for involvement in reinforcement, motor control and frontal lobe functions, such as attention and memory. Tyrosine/phenylalanine depletion (TPD) lowers dopamine synthesis and can therefore be used as a model to study the effects of low dopamine levels. This is the first study to assess the effect of TPD on memory performance and its electrophysiological correlates. In a double blind placebo (PLA)-controlled crossover design, 17 healthy volunteers (six males, 11 females) aged between 18 and 25 were tested after TPD and PLA. Working memory was assessed using a Sternberg memory scanning task (SMS) and episodic memory using the Visual Verbal Learning Test (VVLT). Simultaneously, event-related potentials (ERPs) were measured. The tyrosine and phenylalanine ratio was significantly reduced after TPD and increased after PLA. Working memory performance was not affected by TPD. However, ERP measures were affected by the treatment, indicating that TPD impaired stimulus processing during working memory performance. Episodic memory was not impaired after TPD. Again, alterations in ERP measures suggested adverse effects of TPD on memory-related processing. These results suggest that dopamine is involved in both working memory and episodic memory-related processing, although the effects are too small to be detected by performance measures.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Phenylalanine / blood
  • Phenylalanine / deficiency*
  • Placebos
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Tyrosine / blood
  • Tyrosine / deficiency*
  • Verbal Learning / physiology


  • Placebos
  • Tyrosine
  • Phenylalanine