Effects of acute physical exercise on central serotonergic systems

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997 Jan;29(1):58-62. doi: 10.1097/00005768-199701000-00009.


This paper reviews data concerning the effects of acute physical exercise (treadmill running) in trained rats. Works from the 1980's have established that acute running increases brain serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine: 5-HT) synthesis in two ways. Lipolysis-elicited release of free fatty acids in the blood compartment displaces the binding of the essential amino acid tryptophan to albumin, thereby increasing the concentration of the so-called "free tryptophan" portion, and because exercise increases the ratio of circulating free tryptophan to the sum of the concentrations of the amino acids that compete with tryptophan for uptake at the blood-brain barrier level, tryptophan enters markedly in the brain compartment. However, this marked increase in central tryptophan levels increases only to a low extent brain 5-HT synthesis, as assessed by the analysis of 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid levels, thereby suggesting that exercise promotes feedback regulatory mechanisms. Indirect indices of 5-HT functions open the possibility that acute exercise-induced increases in 5-HT biosynthesis are associated with (or lead to) increases in 5-HT release. Lastly, the hypothesis that training and/or acute exercise triggers changes in 5-HT receptors has been examined in several studies; actually, both positive and negative results have been reached. Taken together, all these data support the need for future studies on the functional effects of exercise on 5-HT, including those related to the hypothesis that the positive mood effects of exercise rely (partly or totally) on central serotonergic systems.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology
  • Animals
  • Biofeedback, Psychology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Serotonin / metabolism
  • Serotonin / biosynthesis*
  • Serotonin / physiology
  • Tryptophan / metabolism


  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Serotonin
  • Tryptophan