European Journal of Nutrition

, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 297–308 | Cite as

Effects of high-tryptophan diet on pre- and postnatal development in rats: a morphological study

  • Paola Castrogiovanni
  • Giuseppe Musumeci
  • Francesca Maria Trovato
  • Rosanna Avola
  • Gaetano Magro
  • Rosa Imbesi
Original Contribution



Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, precursor of serotonin. Serotonin (5HT) regulates the secretion of pituitary growth hormone (GH), which in turn stimulates the liver to produce insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) that is necessary for development and growth. The aim of our study was to investigate the effects of an excess of tryptophan in the diet of pregnant rats on the differentiation of skeletal muscle tissue.


We conducted an immunohistochemical study on the IGF-I expression in hepatic and muscle tissues in offspring, and then, we associated this molecular data with morphological effects on the structure of the muscle fibers and hepatic tissue at different postnatal weeks, from birth to sexual maturity. Measurements of 5HT, GH in blood, and of tryptophan hydroxylase (Tph) activity in gastrointestinal tracts tissue were also taken.


Hyperserotonemia and higher values of Tph activity were detected in both pregnant rats and pups. Very low levels of GH were detected in experimental pups. Morphological alterations of the muscle fibers and lower IGF-I expression in hepatic and muscle tissue in pups were found.


Our data suggest that an excess of tryptophan in the diet causes hyperserotonemia in fetus. Hyperserotonemia results in an excess of serotonin in the brain where it has an adverse effect on the development of serotonergic neurons. The affected neurons do not regulate optimally the secretion of pituitary GH that consequently decreases. This limits stimulation in the liver to produce IGF-I, crucial for development and growth of pups.


Tryptophan Serotonin Growth hormone Insulin-like growth factor Development Diet 



The study was funded by the Department of Bio-Medical Sciences, University of Catania. The authors would like to thank Prof. Iain Halliday for commenting and making corrections to the paper and Mr. Pietro Asero for technical support in the laboratory.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

Experiment was performed in accordance with the European Communities Council Directive (86/609/EEC) and Italian Animal Protection Law (116/1992).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paola Castrogiovanni
    • 1
  • Giuseppe Musumeci
    • 1
  • Francesca Maria Trovato
    • 2
  • Rosanna Avola
    • 1
  • Gaetano Magro
    • 3
  • Rosa Imbesi
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Bio-Medical Science, Section of Human Anatomy and HistologyUniversity of CataniaCataniaItaly
  2. 2.Department of Internal MedicineUniversity of CataniaCataniaItaly
  3. 3.Department G.F. Ingrassia, Azienda Ospedaliero-Universitaria “Policlinico-Vittorio Emanuele” Anatomic PathologyUniversity of CataniaCataniaItaly

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