Background: Serotonergic antidepressants are first-line medication therapies for obsessive-compulsive disorder, however it is not known if synaptic serotonin availability is important for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor efficacy. The present study tested the hypothesis that temporary reduction in central serotonin transmission, through acute tryptophan depletion, would result in an increase in anxiety in selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor-remitted obsessive-compulsive disorder patients. Methods: Eight patients (four males) with obsessive-compulsive disorder who showed sustained clinical improvement with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor treatment underwent acute tryptophan depletion in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subjects design, over two days one week apart. Five hours after consumption of the depleting/sham drink the participants performed a personalized obsessive-compulsive disorder symptom exposure task. Psychological responses were measured using the Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory, Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale and Visual Analogue Scales. Results: Free plasma tryptophan to large neutral amino acid ratio decreased by 93% on the depletion day and decreased by 1% on the sham day, as anticipated. Psychological rating scores as measured by Visual Analogue Scale showed a significant decrease in perceived control and increase in interfering thoughts at the time of provocation on the depletion day but not on the sham day. A measure of convergent validity, namely Visual Analogue Scale Similar to past, was significantly higher at the time of provocation on both the depletion and sham days. Both the depletion and time of provocation scores for Visual Analogue Scale Anxiety, Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory, Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale and blood pressure were not significant. Conclusions: Acute tryptophan depletion caused a significant decrease in perceived control and increase in interfering thoughts at the time of provocation. Acute tryptophan depletion had no effect on the Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory or Visual Analogue Scale Anxiety measures, which suggests that the mechanism of action of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors may be different to that seen in panic, social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Successful selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder may involve the ability of serotonin to switch habitual responding to goal-directed behaviour.