Measuring serotonin synthesis: From conventional methods to PET tracers and their (pre)clinical implications

Anniek K. D. Visser*, Aren van Waarde, Antoon T. M. Willemsen, Fokko J. Bosker, Paul G. M. Luiten, Johan A. den Boer, Ido P. Kema, Rudi A. J. O. Dierckx

*Bijbehorende auteur voor dit werk

Onderzoeksoutputpeer review

43 Citaten (Scopus)
349 Downloads (Pure)


The serotonergic system of the brain is complex, with an extensive innervation pattern covering all brain regions and endowed with at least 15 different receptors (each with their particular distribution patterns), specific reuptake mechanisms and synthetic processes. Many aspects of the functioning of the serotonergic system are still unclear, partially because of the difficulty of measuring physiological processes in the living brain. In this review we give an overview of the conventional methods of measuring serotonin synthesis and methods using positron emission tomography (PET) tracers, more specifically with respect to serotonergic function in affective disorders. Conventional methods are invasive and do not directly measure synthesis rates. Although they may give insight into turnover rates, a more direct measurement may be preferred. PET is a noninvasive technique which can trace metabolic processes, like serotonin synthesis. Tracers developed for this purpose are alpha-[(11)C]methyltryptophan ([(11)C]AMT) and 5-hydroxy-L-[beta-(11)C]tryptophan ([(11)C]5-HTP). Both tracers have advantages and disadvantages. [(11)C]AMT can enter the kynurenine pathway under inflammatory conditions (and thus provide a false signal), but this tracer has been used in many studies leading to novel insights regarding antidepressant action. [(11)C]5-HTP is difficult to produce, but trapping of this compound may better represent serotonin synthesis. AMT and 5-HTP kinetics are differently affected by tryptophan depletion and changes of mood. This may indicate that both tracers are associated with different enzymatic processes. In conclusion, PET with radiolabelled substrates for the serotonergic pathway is the only direct way to detect changes of serotonin synthesis in the living brain.

Originele taal-2English
Pagina's (van-tot)576-591
Aantal pagina's16
TijdschriftEuropean Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging
Nummer van het tijdschrift3
StatusPublished - mrt.-2011


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