Molecular Psychiatry
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2002, Volume 7, Number 5, Pages 468-473
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Original Research Article
Association between decreased serum tryptophan concentrations and depressive symptoms in cancer patients undergoing cytokine therapy
L Capuron1,2, A Ravaud3, P J Neveu1, A H Miller2, M Maes4 and R Dantzer1

1INSERM-INRA, Integrative Neurobiology, Institut François Magendie, 33077 Bordeaux, France

2Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA

3Institut Bergonié, Comprehensive Cancer Center, Department of Medicine, 33076 Bordeaux, France

4Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology, University of Maastricht, 6202 AZ Maastricht, The Netherlands

Correspondence to: L Capuron, PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, 1639 Pierce Drive, Suite 4000, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA. E-mail: lcapuro@emory.edu

Abstract

Cytokine therapy for cancer or viral diseases is accompanied by the development of depressive symptoms in a significant proportion of patients. Despite the increasing number of studies on the neurotoxic effects of cytokines, the mechanisms by which cytokines induce depressive symptoms remain largely unknown. In view of the relationship between neurotransmitter precursors and mood, the present study aimed at assessing the relationship between serum concentrations of the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine, major precursors of serotonin and norepinephrine respectively, and depressive symptoms in cancer patients undergoing cytokine therapy. Sixteen cancer patients eligible to receive immunotherapy with interleukin-2 and/or interferon-alpha participated in the study. At baseline and after one week and one month of therapy, depressive symptoms were assessed using the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS), and blood samples were collected for the determination of the large neutral amino acids (LNAA) (tryptophan, tyrosine, valine, leucine, isoleucine, phenylalanine) which compete for transport across the blood-brain barrier. Serum concentrations of tryptophan as well as the tryptophan/LNAA ratio significantly decreased between baseline, one week and one month of therapy. The development and severity of depressive symptoms, especially anorexia, pessimistic thoughts, suicidal ideation and loss of concentration were positively correlated with the magnitude of the decreases in tryptophan concentrations during treatment. These findings indicate that the development of depressive symptoms in patients undergoing cytokine therapy could be mediated by a reduced availability of the serotonin relevant amino acid precursor, tryptophan.

Molecular Psychiatry (2002) 7, 468-473. doi:10.1038/sj.mp.4000995

Keywords

cytokine; immunotherapy; depressive symptoms; amino acids; tryptophan

Received 16 August 2001; revised 19 September 2001; accepted 25 September 2001
2002, Volume 7, Number 5, Pages 468-473
Table of contents    Previous  Abstract  Next   Full text  PDF