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Effects of acute tryptophan depletion on cognitive function in Alzheimer's disease and in the healthy elderly

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Richard Porter, Professor Brian Lunn, Professor John O'Brien


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Background. The cholinergic system is profoundly impaired in senile dementia of Alzheimer type (SDAT) and replacement therapy produces only modest clinical benefits. The serotonergic system is also impaired and may contribute both to cognitive and non-cognitive symptoms in SDAT. To investigate this further we assessed the effects of lowering brain serotonin using the technique of acute tryptophan depletion on cognitive function in patients with SDAT and in age matched control subjects. Method. Sixteen patients with probable SDAT and 17 healthy elderly subjects received two amino acid drinks in a within subject, double-blind, placebo-controlled, counterbalanced, crossover design. One of the drinks was nutritionally balanced and contained tryptophan (placebo), the other was identical but contained no tryptophan. A battery of detailed neuropsychological tests was performed between 4 and 6 h after the drink. Mood rating scales and other ratings of behavioural and emotional symptoms were also performed on both occasions. Results. Acute tryptophan depletion resulted in impairment on tasks of working memory in both groups. There was no group specific effect. Female SDAT subjects performed better on a task of pattern recognition during acute tryptophan depletion compared with placebo. There were no changes in behavioural symptoms during acute tryptophan depletion in either group. Conclusion. Compromised serotonergic function may be an important contributor to cognitive decline in SDAT and in ageing. Strategies targeting specific 5HT receptors may be helpful in SDAT.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Porter RJ, Lunn BS, O'Brien JT

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Psychological Medicine

Year: 2003

Volume: 33

Issue: 1

Pages: 41-49

Print publication date: 01/01/2003

ISSN (print): 0033-2917

ISSN (electronic): 1469-8978

Publisher: Cambridge University Press


DOI: 10.1017/S0033291702006906

PubMed id: 12537035


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