Human brain serotonin synthesis capacity measured in vivo with alpha-[C-11]methyl-L-tryptophan

Synapse. 1998 Jan;28(1):33-43. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1098-2396(199801)28:1<33::AID-SYN5>3.0.CO;2-D.


Local cerebral serotonin synthesis capacity was measured with alpha-[C-11]methyl-L-tryptophan ([C-11]AMT) in normal adult human brain (n = 10; five males, five females; age range, 18-38 years, mean 28.3 years) by using positron emission tomography (PET). [C-11]AMT is an analog of tryptophan, the precursor for serotonin synthesis, and is converted to alpha-[C-11]methyl-serotonin ([C-11]AM-5HT), which is trapped in serotonergic neurons because [C-11]AM-5HT is not degraded by monoamine oxidase. Kinetic analysis of [C-11] activity in brain after injection of [C-11]AMT confirmed the presence of a compartment with unidirectional uptake that represented approximately 40% of the activity in the brain at 50 min after tracer administration. The undirectional rate constant K, which represents the uptake of [C-11]AMT from the plasma to brain tissue followed by the synthesis and physiologic trapping of [C-11]AM-5HT, was calculated using the Patlak graphic approach on a pixel-by-pixel basis, thus creating parametric images. The rank order of K values for different brain regions corresponded well to the regional concentrations of serotonin in human brain (P < .0001). High serotonin synthesis capacity values were measured in putamen, caudate, thalamus, and hippocampus. Among cortical regions, the highest values were measured in the rectal gyrus of the inferior frontal lobe, followed by transverse temporal gyrus; anterior and posterior cingulate gyrus; middle, superior, and inferior temporal gyri; parietal cortex; occipital cortex, in descending order. Values in women were 10-20% higher (P < .05, MANOVA) throughout the brain than those measured in men. Differences in the serotonin synthesis capacity between men and women measured in this study may reflect gender differences of importance to both normal and pathologic behavior. This study demonstrates the suitability of [C-11]AMT as a tracer for PET scanning of serotonin synthesis capacity in human brain and provides normal adult values for future comparison with patient groups.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Serotonin / biosynthesis*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed*
  • Tryptophan / analogs & derivatives*
  • Tryptophan / metabolism


  • alpha-methyltryptophan
  • Serotonin
  • Tryptophan