Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that can be metabolised through different pathways, a major route being the kynurenine pathway. The first enzyme of the pathway, indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase, is strongly stimulated by inflammatory molecules, particularly interferon gamma. Thus, the kynurenine pathway is often systematically up-regulated when the immune response is activated. The biological significance is that 1) the depletion of tryptophan and generation of kynurenines play a key modulatory role in the immune response; and 2) some of the kynurenines, such as quinolinic acid, 3-hydroxykynurenine and kynurenic acid, are neuroactive. The kynurenine pathway has been demonstrated to be involved in many diseases and disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, AIDS dementia complex, malaria, cancer, depression and schizophrenia, where imbalances in tryptophan and kynurenines have been found. This review compiles most of these studies and provides an overview of how the kynurenine pathway might be contributing to disease development, and the concentrations of tryptophan and kynurenines in the serum, cerebrospinal fluid and brain tissues in control and patient subjects.
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