Acute tryptophan depletion improves performance and modulates the BOLD response during a Stroop task in healthy females

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Abstract

To gain more insight into the effect of low brain serotonin (5-HT) on brain activation related to conflict, the present study examined the effect of acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) on performance and the blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) response during a combined cognitive and emotional Stroop task. Fifteen healthy female volunteers were tested during a placebo and tryptophan depletion session in an event-related fMRI design. ATD improved performance during Stroop interference. Two effects of ATD on the BOLD response were found. Firstly, ATD increased the BOLD response in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) (BA 32) when incongruent color words were compared with congruent color words in the first Stroop block the participants performed. Secondly, ATD increased the BOLD response in the left precuneus (BA 31) and cuneus (BA 18) during congruent color words. ATD did not affect the BOLD response accompanying emotional stimuli. However, we showed that ATD increased the interference of negative words on color naming. This finding was explained in terms of an emotional processing bias in favor of negative words, which leads to stronger interference of these words. In line with previous studies, the present study showed that a temporary reduction of 5-HT improved Stroop performance and changed the underlying brain activation pattern in healthy female participants. Moreover, we replicated our previous finding that ATD modulated the BOLD response in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex during tasks that require cognitive control.

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