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Effect of low-dose acute tryptophan depletion on the specificity of autobiographical memory in healthy subjects with a family history of depression

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Hamid Alhaj, Matthew Selman, Victoria JERVIS, Professor Jacqueline Rodgers, Dr Stephen Barton, Professor Hamish McAllister-WilliamsORCiD


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Rationale Low-dose acute tryptophan depletion (LD-ATD), while having no effect on mood, has been shown to reduce specificity of autobiographical memory in patients who have recovered from a depressive episode. Objectives This study aimed to explore if reduced specificity of autobiographical memory with LD-ATD is common to other groups of individuals at risk of depression, specifically a healthy population with a family history of depression. Methods Nineteen healthy young adults with at least one first-degree relative with a history of major depression were recruited. LD-ATD drinks containing 1.15 g of tryptophan (T+) or no tryptophan (T−) were administered on two separate occasions, in a double blind random order crossover design. The Autobiographical Memory Test (AMT) was administered 5 h after drink administration. Results Analysis of variance revealed a significant difference in the effects of LD-ATD drinks on plasma free tryptophan with no mood change with either drink. There was no within-subject main effect of LD-ATD on the memory task. However, there was a main effect of order of drink. Exploratory analysis of visit 1 data indicated a large between-subject effect (d = 1.4) of LD-ATD on AMT with T− associated with less specificity in response to negative cue words (F(1, 17) = 8.71, p = 0.009). Conclusions Similar to findings following recovery from depression, LD-ATD can reduce specificity of AMT in the absence of lowered mood in healthy individuals with a strong family history of depression. These findings may reflect a 5-HT-dependent cognitive vulnerability to depression in different populations and warrant further research.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Alhaj HA, Selman M, Jervis V, Rodgers J, Barton S, McAllister-Williams RH

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Psychopharmacology

Year: 2012

Volume: 222

Issue: 2

Pages: 285-292

Print publication date: 27/01/2012

ISSN (print): 0033-3158

ISSN (electronic): 1432-2072

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s00213-012-2644-x


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