Impact of experimentally induced serotonin deficiency by tryptophan depletion on sleep EEG in healthy subjects

Ulrich Voderholzer*, Magdolna Hornyak, Birger Thiel, Christine Huwig-Poppe, Andrea Kiemen, Almut König, Jutta Backhaus, Dieter Riemann, Mathias Berger, Fritz Hohagen

*Corresponding author for this work
66 Citations (Scopus)


The tryptophan depletion test is a research strategy to investigate the functional consequences of decreasing the brain serotonin metabolism. Because serotonin is involved in sleep regulation and the regulation of affective states, we studied the acute polysomnographic effects of tryptophan depletion and expected to induce similar changes of sleep EEG as observed in depressed patients. A total of 12 healthy subjects (mean age 34 ± 3 years) had eight polysomnograms, divided in two blocks of 4 consecutive nights. After one adaptation and 1 baseline night, subjects received a low-protein diet on day 3 and 4 until midday. On day 4 at 18.00 h, they drank an amino acid mixture either devoid of tryptophan or containing 2.3 g of tryptophan (placebo control) in randomized and double-blind order, resulting in an 85% decrease (tryptophan depletion) and a 144% increase (placebo control) of serum tryptophan at 22.00 h. After tryptophan depletion but not placebo, significant effects on sleep EEG were observed in terms of decreased non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) stage 2, increase of wake %, and of rapid eye movement (REM) density compared with baseline. REM latency was not altered, however the first and second REM period interval were significantly shorter after tryptophan depletion. This study underlines the impact of the serotonergic system on sleep maintenance and on REM sleep.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)112-124
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 02.1998

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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