Differential effects of acute serotonin and dopamine depletion on prepulse inhibition and P50 suppression measures of sensorimotor and sensory gating in humans

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Schizophrenia is associated with impairments of sensorimotor and sensory gating as measured by prepulse inhibition (PPI) of the acoustic startle response and P50 suppression of the auditory event-related potential respectively. While serotonin and dopamine play an important role in the pathophysiology and treatment of schizophrenia, their role in modulating PPI and P50 suppression in humans is yet to be fully clarified. To further explore the role of serotonin and dopamine in PPI and P50 suppression, we examined the effects of acute tryptophan depletion (to decrease serotonin) and acute tyrosine/phenylalanine depletion (to decrease dopamine) on PPI and P50 suppression in healthy human participants. In addition, we also examined for the first time, the effects of simultaneous serotonin and dopamine depletion (ie combined monoamine depletion) on PPI and P50 suppression. The study was a double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over design in which 16 healthy male participants completed the PPI and P50 paradigms under four acute treatment conditions: (a) balanced/placebo control, (b) acute tryptophan depletion, (c) acute tyrosine/phenylalanine depletion, and (d) acute tyrosine/phenylalanine/tryptophan depletion (combined monoamine depletion). Selective depletion of dopamine had no significant effect on either PPI or P50 suppression, whereas selective serotonin depletion significantly disrupted PPI, but not P50 suppression. Finally, the simultaneous depletion of both serotonin and dopamine resulted in significant reduction of both PPI and P50 suppression. We suggest these results can be explained by theories relating to optimal levels of monoaminergic neurotransmission and synergistic interactions between serotonergic and dopaminergic systems for normal ‘gating’ function. These findings suggest that a dysfunction in both serotonin and dopamine neurotransmission may, in part, be responsible for the gating deficits observed in schizophrenia, and their normalization following administration of atypical antipsychotic drugs.


School of Psychology

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Journal Article

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