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Parallel to neopterin formation, cytokine interferon-g also induces degradation of tryptophan. In various diseases increased neopterin concentrations correlate with decrease of tryptophan and increase of tryptophan catabolites.


 Interferon-gamma-induced conversion of tryptophan: immunologic and neuropsychiatric aspects

Wirleitner B, et al. Institute of Medical Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
(Curr Med Chem 2003; 10: 1581-91)

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid and the least abundant constituent of proteins. In parallel it represents a source for two important biochemical pathways: the generation of neurotransmitter 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin) by the tetrahydrobiopterin-dependent tryptophan 5-hydroxylase, and the formation of kynurenine derivatives and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotides initiated by the enzymes tryptophan pyrrolase (tryptophan 2,3-dioxygenase, TDO) and indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO). Whereas TDO is located in the liver cells, IDO is expressed in a large variety of cells and is inducible by the cytokine interferon-gamma. Therefore, accelerated tryptophan degradation is observed in diseases and disorders concomitant with cellular immune activation, e. g. infectious, autoimmune, and malignant diseases, as well as during pregnancy. According to the cytostatic and antiproliferative properties of tryptophan-depletion on T lymphocytes, activated T-helper type 1 (Th-1) cells may down-regulate immune response via degradation of tryptophan. Especially in states of persistent immune activation availability of free serum tryptophan is diminished and as a consequence of reduced serotonin production, serotonergic functions may as well be affected. Accumulation of neuroactive kynurenine metabolites such as quinolinic acid may contribute to the development of neurologic/psychiatric disorders. Thus, IDO seems to represent a link between the immunological network and neuroendocrine functions with far reaching consequences in regard to the psychological status of patients. These observations provide a basis for the better understanding of mood disorder and related symptoms in chronic diseases.

Immune reaction links disease progression in cancer patients with depression

Murr C, et al. Institute for Medical Chemistry and Biochemistry, Innsbruck, Austria
(Med Hypotheses 2000; 55: 137-40)

Mood disturbances and depression are supposed to have a negative impact on patients' outcome in malignant tumour disease. On the other hand, poor prognosis in cancer patients is associated with chronic immune challenge which is paralleled by enhanced degradation of the essential amino acid tryptophan and thus decreased plasma tryptophan concentrations. Because tryptophan is precursor for the biosynthesis of the neurotransmitter serotonin (= 5-hydroxytryptamine, 5HT), low tryptophan concentrations will lead to decreased availability of serotonin which finally increases the susceptibility for the development of mood disturbances and depression in the patients. Thus, the development of depression in cancer patients may result from chronic cellular immune stimulation. In conclusion, a more aggressive tumour rather than depression will be responsible for worse outcome of cancer patients and will be associated with a more drastic challenge of the immune system, as a side effect leading to neurotransmitter disturbances.

Serum tryptophan decrease correlates with immune activation and impaired quality of life in colorectal cancer

Huang A, et al. Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, 369 Fulham Road, London SW10 9NH, UK
(Br J Cancer 2002; 86: 1691-6)

Cancer-related indoleamine (2,3)-dioxygenase up-regulation by interferon-gamma might influence quality of life by depleting serum tryptophan. We correlated serum tryptophan levels with immune activation and quality of life in patients with colorectal liver metastases. Venous blood was sampled from patients with primary colorectal cancer and from patients with metachronous colorectal liver metastases who completed quality of life and psychological questionnaires. Serum tryptophan, kynurenine, neopterin, interleukin 2 soluble receptor alpha (IL-2 sRalpha), soluble tumour necrosis factor receptor I (sTNF RI), interleukin 6, and C-reactive protein were measured. Liver metastasis volume was estimated by computerised tomography, and survival from blood sampling was noted. Sixty-six patients with colorectal cancer were studied (39 males; median age 66 years) of whom 25 had colorectal liver metastases only (17 males; median age 62 years; median liver metastasis volume 208 ml; median survival 234 days). Reduced serum tryptophan was significantly associated with Rotterdam Symptom Checklist physical symptom (r=-0.51, P=0.01) and Sickness Impact Profile (r=-0.42, P=0.04) scores, and correlated with increased serum neopterin (r=-0.36, P=0.003), IL-2 sRalpha (r=-0.51, P=0.01) and sTNF RI (r=-0.45, P=0.02) levels. Stepwise regression analyses suggested that serum tryptophan was an independent predictor of Rotterdam Symptom Checklist physical symptom (regression coefficient -20.78, P=0.01) and Sickness Impact Profile (regression coefficient -109.09, P=0.04) scores. The results supported a role for interferon-gamma-mediated serum tryptophan decrease in cancer-induced quality of life deterioration. Copyright 2002 Cancer Research UK

Interferon-alpha-induced changes in tryptophan metabolism. relationship to depression and paroxetine treatment

Capuron L, et al. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA
(Biol Psychiatry 2003; 54: 906-14)

 Tryptophan (TRP) degradation into kynurenine (KYN) by the enzyme, indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase, during immune activation may contribute to development of depressive symptoms during interferon (IFN)-alpha therapy.: Twenty-six patients with malignant melanoma were randomly assigned in double-blind fashion to receive either placebo or paroxetine, beginning 2 weeks before IFN-alpha treatment and continuing for the first 12 weeks of IFN-alpha therapy. At treatment initiation and at 2, 4, and 12 weeks of IFN-alpha treatment, measurements of TRP, KYN, and neopterin (a marker of immune activation), were obtained, along with structured assessments of depression, anxiety, and neurotoxicity. Regardless of antidepressant treatment status, all patients exhibited significant increases in KYN, neopterin, and the KYN/TRP ratio during IFN-alpha therapy. Among antidepressant-free patients, patients who developed major depression exhibited significantly greater increases in KYN and neopterin concentrations and more prolonged decreases in TRP concentrations than did nondepressed, antidepressant-free patients. Moreover, in antidepressant-free patients, decreases in TRP correlated with depressive, anxious, and cognitive symptoms, but not neurovegetative or somatic symptoms. No correlations were found between clinical and biological variables in antidepressant-treated patients. The results suggest that reduced TRP availability plays a role in IFN-alpha-induced depressive symptoms, and paroxetine, although not altering the KYN or neopterin response to IFN-alpha, attenuates the behavioral consequences of IFN-alpha-mediated TRP depletion.