BACKGROUND: Serotonin (5-HT) plays a central role in mood regulation and impulsivity. We studied whether healthy men and women react differently on mood and impulsivity measures during acute tryptophan depletion (ATD). We also studied the relative contribution of a functional length triallelic polymorphism in the promoter region of the serotonin transporter, designated 5-HTTLPR, to the behavioral responses to ATD. METHODS: Thirty-nine men and 44 women participated in a randomized, double-blind, parallel group ATD study. Behavioral measures of impulsivity and mood were obtained. RESULTS: During ATD, women reported mood reduction and showed a cautious response style, which is commonly associated with depression. Men showed an impulsive response style and did not report mood reduction. The 5-HTTLPR influenced the mood response to ATD in women. CONCLUSIONS: Healthy men became more impulsive, whereas healthy women showed mood reduction in response to ATD. This suggests that 5-HT could be one mechanism contributing to the sex differences in the prevalence of mood and impulsivity disorders. The influence of 5-HTTLPR on mood responses in women further substantiates the relevance of this variant in the pathophysiology of at least a subgroup of patients with major depressive disorder.