The effects of alcohol on laboratory-measured impulsivity after L-Tryptophan depletion or loading

Donald M. Dougherty, Dawn M. Marsh, Charles W. Mathias, Michael A. Dawes, Don M. Bradley, Chris J. Morgan, Abdulla A.B. Badawy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Rationale: Indirect evidence supports a link between serotonergic activity and individual differences in the behavioral response to alcohol, but few studies have experimentally demonstrated that an individual's biological state can influence the sensitivity to alcohol-induced behaviors. Objective: Our purpose was to temporarily modify serotonin synthesis in healthy individuals to determine how altered biological states may interact with alcohol administration to affect impulsive behavior. Materials and methods: In a repeated-measures design, 18 normal controls consumed a 50-g L-tryptophan (Trp) depleting (ATD) or loading (ATL) amino-acid beverage that temporarily decreased or increased (respectively) serotonin synthesis before receiving either a moderate dose of alcohol (0.65 g/kg) or placebo. All participants completed three impulsivity testing sessions on each of the five experimental days. Session one was a baseline session. Session two included testing after ATD-only or ATL-only. Session three included: (1) placebo after ATL (ATL+PBO); (2) placebo after ATD (ATD+PBO); (3) alcohol after ATL (ATL+ALC); (4) alcohol after ATD (ATD+ALC); and (5) Alcohol-only conditions. Impulsivity was assessed using the Immediate Memory Task (Dougherty et al., Behav Res Methods Instrum Comput 34:391-398, 2002), a continuous performance test yielding commission errors that have been previously validated as a component of impulsive behavior. Results: Primary findings were that ATD-only increased impulsive responding compared to ATL-only, and ATD+ALC increased commission errors to levels higher than either the ATL+ALC or Alcohol-only conditions. Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that reduced serotonin synthesis can produce increased impulsivity even among non-impulsive normal controls, and that the behavioral effects of alcohol are, in part, dependent on this biological state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)137-150
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcohol
  • Humans
  • Impulsivity
  • L-tryptophan depletion
  • Serotonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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