The immunoregulatory enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) controls tryptophan metabolism and is induced by pro-inflammatory stimuli. We investigated whether immunostimulatory treatment with granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) influences IDO activity and tryptophan metabolism in sepsis. Thirty-six patients with severe sepsis/septic shock and sepsis-associated immunosuppression (assessed using monocytic human leukocyte antigen-DR (mHLA-DR) expression) were assessed in a controlled trial of GM-CSF or placebo treatment for 8 days. Using tandem mass spectrometry, levels of tryptophan, kynurenine, kynurenic acid, quinolinic acid, 5-hydroxytryptophan, serotonin, and estimated IDO activity were determined in a blinded fashion over a 9-day interval. At baseline, tryptophan and metabolite levels did not differ between the study groups. Although tryptophan levels were unchanged in both groups over the treatment interval (all p>0.8), IDO activity was markedly reduced after GM-CSF treatment (35.4 +/- 21.0 vs 21.6 +/-9.9 (baseline vs day 9), p = 0.02). IDO activity differed significantly between the 2 groups after therapy (p = 0.03). Metabolites downstream of IDO (kynurenine, quinolinic acid, kynurenic acid) were all induced in sepsis and declined in the GM-CSF group, but not in controls. Serotonin pathway metabolites remained unchanged in both groups (all p>0.15). Moreover, IDO activity correlated with procalcitonin (p< 0.0001, r = 0.56) and mHLA-DR levels (p = 0.005, r = -0.28) in the overall samples group. Thus, GM-CSF therapy is associated with decreased IDO activity and reduced kynurenine pathway catabolites in sepsis. This may be due to an improved antibacterial defence.