Effective antiretroviral therapy reduces degradation of tryptophan in patients with HIV-1 infection

Clin Immunol. 2002 Sep;104(3):242-7. doi: 10.1006/clim.2002.5231.


Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has a significant impact on HIV-1 RNA levels, the CD4 cell count, and immune activation. We examined whether these changes are associated with a change in the rate of tryptophan degradation (expressed as the kynurenine to tryptophan ratio, kyn/trp) as an estimate for the activity of interferon-gamma inducible enzyme indoleamine (, )-dioxygenase (IDO). Plasma levels of tryptophan, kynurenine, and neopterin were measured pretherapy and 6 months postinitiation of therapy in 45 patients with HIV-1 RNA levels of less than 1000 copies/ml 6 months after initiation of ART. Before ART, the patients had decreased tryptophan and increased kynurenine concentrations compared to healthy controls. During ART, average tryptophan levels increased; in the same time kynurenine and kyn/trp decreased (P < 0.001), although not to normal levels. Since pretherapy tryptophan concentrations correlated inversely with neopterin, and kynurenine correlated with viral load and neopterin but not with CD4 cell count, the data support the view that HIV production may induce immune activation and consequently tryptophan is degraded at a higher rate. In agreement, kyn/trp positively correlated with neopterin (r(s) = 0.60, P < 0.001), with virus load (r(s) = 0.37, P = 0.013), and very weakly with CD4(+) cells counts (r(s) = 0.30, P = 0.049). The change in the kyn/trp ratio during ART correlated more strongly with the change in neopterin levels (r(s) = 0.49, P = 0.001) than with the change in HIV RNA levels and weakly with the CD4 cell count. The data underscore the fact that both neopterin production and tryptophan degradation are triggered by immune activation. Tryptophan degradation is increased in HIV infection and partially reversed under ART. The data agree with the concept that immune activation is the common background of IDO activation which may be an important factor underlying T-cell hyporesponsiveness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / immunology
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Anti-HIV Agents / administration & dosage*
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • HIV-1*
  • Humans
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase
  • Kynurenine / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Tryptophan / metabolism*
  • Tryptophan Oxygenase / metabolism


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase
  • Kynurenine
  • Tryptophan
  • Tryptophan Oxygenase