Heme precursor 5‐aminolevulinic acid alters brain tryptophan and serotonin levels without changing pineal serotonin and melatonin concentrations

S. Daya, K. O. Nonaka, G. R. Buzzell, R. J. Reiter

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19 Scopus citations


The daytime administration of the heme precursor 5‐aminolevulinate (5‐ALA) has been shown to reduce brain tryptophan and serotonin levels owing to saturation of liver tryptophan pyrrolase. Saturation of this enzyme with heme results in enhanced activity, leading to increased catabolism of tryptophan and thus making less tryptophan available to the brain. Tryptophan is also the precursor of melatonin, a primary secretory product of the pineal gland. Reduced melatonin levels, which could be a consequence of altered tryptophan metabolism, have been associated with depressive disorders in humans. In view of this, in the present study we examined the effects of 5‐ALA administration on forebrain tryptophan and serotonin levels as well as pineal serotonin, melatonin, and the pineal melatonin‐forming enzymes N‐acetyltransferase (NAT) and hydroxyindole‐O‐methyltransferase (HIOMT). 5‐ALA induced a reduction in forebrain tryptophan and serotonin levels during the light phase and caused the opposite effect in the dark phase. Allopurinol, an inhibitor of hepatic tryptophan pyrrolase activity, prevented the reduction in the indole levels induced by 5‐ALA. Although 5‐ALA induced these changes in the forebrain, it did not alter either daytime or nighttime pineal NAT, HIMOT, serotonin, or melatonin levels. It appears that high serotonin levels and melatonin production in the pineal are conserved even in the face of low circulating tryptophan levels, changes which alter brain tryptophan and serotonin concentrations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)304-309
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1989



  • 5‐aminolevulinate
  • melatonin
  • pineal gland
  • serotonin
  • tryp‐ tophan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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