The present research evaluated the effects of dietary tryptophan (Trp) on growth performance, intestinal mucosa] immune, barrier function and antioxidant capacity and gene expression of young grass carp (Ctenophatyngodon idella). Fish were fed six different experimental diets containing graded levels of Trp at 0.7(control), 1.7, 3.1, 4.0, 52 and 6.1 g kg(-1) diet for 8 weeks. The results showed that Trp supplementation significantly enhanced the percent weight gain (PWG), feed intake and feed efficiency (P < 0.05), and decreased the plasma ammonia content (PAC) (P < 0.05). After the 8-week feeding trail, an environmental copper exposure trail was conducted for 4 days. Results from the copper exposure trail showed that dietary Trp enhanced the lysozyme, acid phosphatase activities and complement 3 contents in the intestine of young grass carp (P < 0.05). In addition, Trp supplementation increased the copper/zinc superoxide dismutase (SOD1), glutathione peroxidase (GPx) activities and glutathione contents (P < 0.05), and decreased the protein carbonyl and malondialdehyde contents (P < 0.05). Furthermore, the relative gene expression levels of interleukin 10, transforming growth factor-beta 1, occludin, zonula occludens 1, claudin-b, -c, and 3, SOD1, GPx and NF-E2-related factor 2 in the intestine were significantly up-regulated with increasing of dietary Trp up to a certain level (P < 0.05). Conversely, the mRNA levels of tumor necrosis factor a, interleukin 8, target of rapamycin, Kelch-like-ECH-associated protein 1, claudin-12 and -15a in the intestine were significantly down-regulated by Trp (P < 0.05). Collectively, appropriate dietary Trp level improves fish growth, intestinal immune response, barrier function and antioxidant status, and regulated the mRNA levels of related signal molecules of young grass carp. Based on the quadratic regression analysis of the PWG and PAC, the dietary Trp requirement of young grass carp (287-699 g) was estimated to be 3.81 g kg(-1) diet (12.7 g kg(-1) protein) and 3.89 g kg(-1) diet (13.0 g kg(-1) protein), respectively. (C) 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.