Rapid tryptophan depletion improves decision-making cognition in healthy humans without affecting reversal learning or set shifting

Peter Talbot, Peter S. Talbot, David R. Watson, Suzanne L. Barrett, Stephen J. Cooper

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Rapid tryptophan (Trp) depletion (RTD) has been reported to cause deterioration in the quality of decision making and impaired reversal learning, while leaving attentional set shifting relatively unimpaired. These findings have been attributed to a more powerful neuromodulatory effect of reduced 5-HT on ventral prefrontal cortex (PFC) than on dorsolateral PFC. In view of the limited number of reports, the aim of this study was to independently replicate these findings using the same test paradigms. Healthy human subjects without a personal or family history of affective disorder were assessed using a computerized decision making/gambling task and the CANTAB ID/ED attentional set-shifting task under Trp-depleted (n = 17; nine males and eight females) or control (n = 15; seven males and eight females) conditions, in a double-blind, randomized, parallel-group design. There was no significant effect of RTD on set shifting, reversal learning, risk taking, impulsivity, or subjective mood. However, RTD significantly altered decision making such that depleted subjects chose the more likely of two possible outcomes significantly more often than controls. This is in direct contrast to the previous report that subjects chose the more likely outcome significantly less often following RTD. In the terminology of that report, our result may be interpreted as improvement in the quality of decision making following RTD. This contrast between studies highlights the variability in the cognitive effects of RTD between apparently similar groups of healthy subjects, and suggests the need for future RTD studies to control for a range of personality, family history, and genetic factors that may be associated with 5-HT function. © 2006 Nature Publishing Group All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1519-1525
    Number of pages6
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2006


    • Decision-making cognition
    • Gambling
    • Reversal learning
    • Serotonin (5-HT)
    • Set shifting
    • Tryptophan depletion


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