Whole blood serotonin content, tryptophan concentrations, and impulsivity in anorexia nervosa

Biol Psychiatry. 1998 Feb 1;43(3):188-95. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3223(97)00299-0.


Background: We hypothesized that anorectics with or without bulimic features would differ on impulsivity and indices of central serotoninergic function (high impulsivity being correlated with reduced serotoninergic function).

Methods: For all patients impulsivity rating scales and questionnaires detailing severity of eating disorder were assessed, and whole blood serotonin concentration (5-HT), free and total tryptophan (TT) concentrations, and large neutral amino acids (LNAA) were assayed.

Results: Nineteen patients with anorexia nervosa were included, 10 presented associated bulimic features and nine did not. Twelve healthy matched controls were also included. Our hypothesis was not verified. However, tryptophan concentration and the ratio of tryptophan concentration to LNAA allow us to separate controls from anorectics, whereas 5-HT concentration does not. Two significant and positive correlations were found: between impulsivity and anxiety in the total anorectic population, and between anxiety and serotonin in the impulsive group.

Conclusions: All measured peripheral biologic indices except 5-HT concentration may be of interest in this pathology. Impulsivity and anxiety seem to be two personality components involved in anorexia nervosa. This study lead us to the necessity of redefining impulsivity in anorexia nervosa.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / blood*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology*
  • Bulimia / psychology
  • Female
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Male
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Serotonin / blood*
  • Tryptophan / blood*


  • Serotonin
  • Tryptophan