Slow-release delivery enhances the pharmacological properties of oral 5-hydroxytryptophan: mouse proof-of-concept

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019 Nov;44(12):2082-2090. doi: 10.1038/s41386-019-0400-1. Epub 2019 Apr 29.


5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) has shown therapeutic promise in a range of human CNS disorders. But native 5-HTP immediate release (IR) is poorly druggable, as rapid absorption causes rapid onset of adverse events, and rapid elimination causes fluctuating exposure. Recently, we reported that 5-HTP delivered as slow-release (SR) in mice augmented the brain pro-serotonergic effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), without the usual adverse events associated with 5-HTP IR. However, our previous study entailed translational limitations, in terms of route, dose, and duration. Here we modeled oral 5-HTP SR in mice by administering 5-HTP via the food. We modeled oral SSRI treatment via fluoxetine in the water, in a regimen recapitulating clinical pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. 5-HTP SR produced plasma 5-HTP levels well within the range enhancing brain 5-HT function in humans. 5-HTP SR robustly increased brain 5-HT synthesis and levels. When administered with an SSRI, 5-HTP SR enhanced 5-HT-sensitive behaviors and neurotrophic mRNA expression. 5-HTP SR's pro-serotonergic effects were stronger in mice with endogenous brain 5-HT deficiency. In a comprehensive screen, 5-HTP SR was devoid of overt toxicological effects. The present preclinical data, appreciated in the context of published 5-HTP clinical data, suggest that 5-HTP SR could represent a new therapeutic approach to the plethora of CNS disorders potentially treatable with a pro-serotonergic drug. 5-HTP SR might in particular be therapeutically relevant when brain 5-HT deficiency is pathogenic and as an adjunctive augmentation therapy to SSRI therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 5-Hydroxytryptophan / administration & dosage
  • 5-Hydroxytryptophan / analysis
  • 5-Hydroxytryptophan / pharmacology*
  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Female
  • Fluoxetine / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Proof of Concept Study
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / pharmacology


  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Fluoxetine
  • 5-Hydroxytryptophan