The effects of short-term tryptophan depletion were examined in 15 patients with DSM-III-R obsessive-compulsive disorder who had demonstrated symptom reduction following treatment with serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Patients received a 24-hour, low-tryptophan (160-mg/d) diet followed the next morning by a drink of 15 amino acids. A double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover design was used.
The diet and the amino acid drink reduced free plasma tryptophan levels by a mean of 84% 5 hours later. Short-term tryptophan depletion did not significantly change mean ratings of obsessions and compulsions. In contrast, mean depression ratings were significantly increased with tryptophan depletion compared with the control (tryptophan-supplemented) testing.
Maintenance of serotonin reuptake inhibitor—induced improvement of obsessive and compulsive symptoms, unlike remission of depressive symptoms, may not depend on ongoing short-term availability of serotonin.