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BACKGROUND: Activation of the glutamate N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor with its co-agonist D-serine has been shown to improve subjective mood in healthy volunteers. D-alanine is another potent N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor co-agonist which arises from the natural breakdown of host gut microbes, and is predominantly sequestered in the pituitary. This may suggest that D-alanine influences the neuroendocrine stress response which may then impact on emotion. AIMS: The current study explored the effects of D-serine and D-alanine on emotional processing, cognition and the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in healthy volunteers. METHODS: In a double-blind, placebo-controlled randomised study, participants (n=63) received a single oral dose of either D-serine, D-alanine (60 mg/kg) or placebo and then performed the Emotional Test Battery and N-back task (two hours post-administration) and provided saliva samples at fixed intervals. RESULTS: Subjects administered with D-alanine were faster at identifying facial expressions of fear, surprise and anger, and at categorising negative self-referential words. Participants on D-alanine also showed a trend to recall more words than placebo in a memory task. D-serine did not have any meaningful effects in any of the tasks. Neither amino acid had a significant effect on salivary cortisol or working memory. CONCLUSION: This study is the first to suggest that D-alanine can modulate emotional cognitive processing after a single dose. The lack of findings for D-serine nevertheless contrasts a previous study, emphasising a need for further investigation to clarify discrepancies. A better understanding of the physiological actions of D-amino acids would be beneficial in evaluating their therapeutic potential.

Original publication

DOI

10.1177/0269881120908904

Type

Journal article

Journal

J Psychopharmacol

Publication Date

13/03/2020

Keywords

D-amino acids, cognition, cortisol, emotional processing