Tryptophan is the source of Thanksgiving legend and grist for a "Seinfeld" episode, but its not the chemical that youd expect to find in Lawrence Steinmans lab.
A professor of neurology and neurological sciences and chair of the immunology program, Steinman, MD, and his lab generally focus on high-tech genetic therapies for diseases of the brain and nervous system. But his latest paper, to be published in the Nov. 4 issue of Science, breaks new ground on the effects of tryptophan - an amino acid found in turkey, among other foods, that is rumored to cause extreme post-Thanksgiving-feast sleepiness. It was featured in "Seinfeld" as a way for Jerry to knock out a woman by feeding her turkey so he could play with her classic toy collection.
The myth of tryptophan in turkey causing inordinate sleepiness has been debunked (tryptophan only works on the brain when ingested on an empty stomach). But the amino acid itself does play a vital role in sleep and in control of mood. And Steinmans findings add to the growing body of evidence indicating that tryptophan plays a pivotal role in the immune system.
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