Effects of tryptophan depletion on anxiety, a systematic review

Simone M.E. Schopman, Renske C. Bosman, Anna D.T. Muntingh, Anton J.L.M. van Balkom, Neeltje M. Batelaan

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Vulnerability markers for onset of anxiety disorders are scarce. In depression, patients at risk tend to respond with a negative mood to ‘acute tryptophan depletion’ (ATD), while healthy volunteers and current patients do not. The serotonergic system thus provides indications for vulnerability for depression. It is unknown whether ATD reveals vulnerability in anxiety too. This study systematically reviews the effects of ATD on anxiety and assesses whether challenging anxiety modifies the response. PubMed, Embase and PsychInfo were systematically searched up to April 2019 for studies in which (1) healthy volunteers or patients with a (remitted) anxiety disorder underwent ATD and (2) levels of anxiety were reported. In total, 21 studies were included. Studies conducted in healthy volunteers (n = 13), and patients with a remitted (n = 6) or current (panic, social or generalised) anxiety disorder (n = 4). Studies were mostly of poor quality and heterogeneous regarding population, challenge test used and outcome measures. ATD did not consistently affect anxiety in any of the groups. Moreover, a challenge test after ATD (n = 17 studies) did not consistently provoke anxiety in healthy volunteers or remitted patients. A 35% CO2 challenge did consistently increase anxiety in patients with a current panic disorder (PD). To conclude, this systematic review found no clear indications that ATD provokes anxiety in those at risk for anxiety disorders. Hence, unlike in depression, ATD does not indicate vulnerability to develop an anxiety disorder. Because included studies were heterogeneous and mostly of poor quality, there is an urgent need for high quality research in homogeneous samples.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

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