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Tryptophan is an α-amino acid that is used in the biosynthesis of proteins. Tryptophan contains an α-amino group, an α-carboxylic acid group, and a side chain indole, making it a polar molecule with a non-polar aromatic beta carbon substituent. It is essential in humans, meaning that the body cannot synthesize it and it must be obtained from the diet. Tryptophan is also a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, the hormone melatonin, and vitamin B3.It is encoded by the codon UGG. Like other amino acids, tryptophan is a zwitterion at physiological pH where the amino group is protonated (–NH+3; pKa = 9.39) and the carboxylic acid is deprotonated ( –COO−; pKa = 2.38).Many animals cannot synthesize tryptophan: they need to obtain it through their diet, making it an essential amino acid.

L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps the body make proteins and certain brain-signaling chemicals. Your body changes L-tryptophan into a brain chemical called serotonin. Serotonin helps control your mood and sleep.