Acute tryptophan depletion attenuates conscious appraisal of social emotional signals in healthy female volunteers

Beacher, Felix D. C. C., Gray, Marcus A., Minati, Ludovico, Whale, Richard, Harrison, Neil A. and Critchley, Hugo D. (2011) Acute tryptophan depletion attenuates conscious appraisal of social emotional signals in healthy female volunteers. Psychopharmacology, 213 2-3: 603-613. doi:10.1007/s00213-010-1897-5

Author Beacher, Felix D. C. C.
Gray, Marcus A.
Minati, Ludovico
Whale, Richard
Harrison, Neil A.
Critchley, Hugo D.
Title Acute tryptophan depletion attenuates conscious appraisal of social emotional signals in healthy female volunteers
Journal name Psychopharmacology   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0033-3158
Publication date 2011-02
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1007/s00213-010-1897-5
Volume 213
Issue 2-3
Start page 603
End page 613
Total pages 11
Place of publication Heidelberg, Germany
Publisher Springer
Language eng
Formatted abstract
Rationale Acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) decreases levels of central serotonin. ATD thus enables the cognitive effects of serotonin to be studied, with implications for the understanding of psychiatric conditions, including depression.
Objective To determine the role of serotonin in conscious (explicit) and unconscious/incidental processing of emotional information.
Materials and methods A randomized, double-blind, cross-over design was used with 15 healthy female participants. Subjective mood was recorded at baseline and after 4 h, when participants performed an explicit emotional face processing task, and a task eliciting unconscious processing of emotionally aversive and neutral images presented subliminally using backward masking.
Results ATD was associated with a robust reduction in plasma tryptophan at 4 h but had no effect on mood or autonomic physiology. ATD was associated with significantly lower attractiveness ratings for happy faces and attenuation of intensity/arousal ratings of angry faces. ATD also reduced overall reaction times on the unconscious perception task, but there was no interaction with emotional content of masked stimuli. ATD did not affect breakthrough perception (accuracy in identification) of masked images.
Conclusions ATD attenuates the attractiveness of positive faces and the negative intensity of threatening faces, suggesting that serotonin contributes specifically to the appraisal of the social salience of both positive and negative salient social emotional cues. We found no evidence that serotonin affects unconscious processing of negative emotional stimuli. These novel findings implicate serotonin in conscious aspects of active social and behavioural engagement and extend knowledge regarding the effects of ATD on emotional perception.
Keyword Acute tryptophan depletion
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status Non-UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collection: Centre for Advanced Imaging Publications
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