Tryptophan depletion affects the autonomic stress response in generalized social anxiety disorder

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Psychoneuroendocrinology, Volume 34, Number 10, p.1590-1594 (2009)


1873-3360 (Electronic)03

DOI Name (links to online publication)



Anxiety Disorders/*metabolism; Autonomic Nervous System/*metabolism; Citalopram/therapeutic use; Female; Humans; Hydrocortisone/metabolism; Male; Saliva/metabolism; Salivary alpha-Amylases/metabolism; Speech; Stress; Psychological/*metabolism; Tryptophan/


In generalized social anxiety disorder (gSAD), serotonergic dysfunctions are found, as well as abnormalities of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in basal conditions and of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis in response to psychological challenges. These findings raise the question whether these phenomena are interrelated. Therefore we designed a study in which two groups with nine pair wise age and gender matched gSAD patients (total of 10 men and 8 women), who were successfully treated with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), underwent a tryptophan depletion challenge (TD) or a placebo condition. A TD procedure temporarily decreases serotonergic neurotransmission. In order to activate the stress system the TD/placebo challenge was combined with a public speaking task. We assessed ANS responses, as measured with the promising new marker salivary alpha-amylase (sAA), and HPA-axis responses, as measured with salivary cortisol. The most important result was that the TD group showed a significant larger sAA response to the public speaking task as compared to the placebo group, reflecting hyperresponsivity of the ANS in this group, whereas no differences were seen in cortisol responses. This suggests that in gSAD there is a vulnerability of the ANS more than the HPA-axis.