The significance of tryptophan in human nutrition

Amino Acids. 1995 Sep;9(3):91-205. doi: 10.1007/BF00805951.


Aside from its role as one of the limiting essential amino acids in protein metabolism, tryptophan (TRP) serves as precursor for the synthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin and tryptamine as well as for the synthesis of the antipellagra vitamin nicotinic acid and the epiphyseal hormone melatonin.By involvement in so manifold pathways, TRP and its metabolites regulate neurobehavioral effects such as appetite, sleeping-waking-rhythm and pain perception. TRP is the only amino acid which binds to serum albumin to a high degree. Its transport through cell membranes is competetrvely inhibited by large neutral amino acids (NAA). The TRP/NAA ratio in plasma is essential for the TRP availability and thus for the serotonin synthesis in the brain.Due to its high TRP-concentration, human milk protein provides optimal conditions for the availability of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Low protein cow's milk-based infant formulas supplemented withα-lactalbumin - a whey protein fraction containing 5.8% TRP - present themselves as a new generation of formulas, with an amino acid pattern different from the currently used protein mixtures of adapted formulas, resembling that of human milk to a much higher degree.