The effects of tryptophan depletion and loading on laboratory aggression in men: time course and a food-restricted control
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Some studies have shown that sharp reduction of L-tryptophan (Trp) concentration in plasma results in increases in laboratory-measured aggression. Conversely, raising plasma Trp has blunted aggression. These effects are presumably due to impaired or enhanced serotonin synthesis and neurotransmission in the brain. In this study, the laboratory-measured aggressive behavior of eight men under both Trp depletion (T-) and Trp loading (T+) conditions was compared to their aggressive behavior under food-restricted control conditions (overnight fast without an amino acid beverage). Subjects were provoked by periodic subtraction of money which was attributed to a fictitious other participant, and aggression was defined as the number of retaliatory responses the subject made ostensibly to reduce the earnings of the (fictitious) other participant. Following ingestion of the T- beverage, aggressive responding was significantly elevated relative to the food-restricted control condition, and this increased aggressive behavior became more pronounced across behavioral testing sessions on a time-course which paralleled previously documented decreases in plasma Trp concentrations. In contrast, no changes were observed in aggressive responding under T+ conditions relative to food-restricted conditions. These within-subject behavioral changes under depleted plasma Trp conditions support earlier indications of a role of serotonin in regulating aggression.
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