Indoleamine dioxygenase (IDO) is a heme- containing enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of tryptophan to N-formylkynurenine, kynurenine and the downstream quinolinic acid. Though IDO is physiologically important in maintaining tissue integrity, aberrant IDO expression represses T cell function and promotes regulatory T cells (Treg) in cancer. It additionally exacerbates Alzheimer, depression, Huntington and Parkinson diseases via quinolinic acid. Inhibition of IDO has thus been recently proposed as a strategy for treating cancer and neuronal disorders. In the present study, we have developed a cell-based assay to evaluate the suppressive effect of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals on the enzyme. When stimulated by INF-γ, profound high expressions of IDO-1 mRNA as well as the protein were detected in human neural stem cells (hNSC) and verified by real-time retro-transcribed PCR and western blot analysis, respectively. The protein activity was measured by kynurenine concentration and the assay was validated by dose-responsive inhibition of IDO-1 antagonists including 1-methyltryptaphan, indomethacin and acetylsalicylic acid. Among the tested compounds, apigenin, baicalein, chrysin, and wogonin exhibit a potent repressive activity with IC(50s) comparable to that of indomethacin. The inhibition was further found to be independent of gene expression and protein translation because of the unaltered levels of mRNA and protein expression. Although curcumin displayed a potent inhibitory activity to the enzyme, it appeared to be cytotoxic to hNSCs. Morphological examination of hNSC revealed that baicalein and wogonin at the inhibitory concentrations induced neurite outgrowth. In conclusion, our data shows that certain phytochemicals with 2-phenyl-1-benzopyran-4-one backbone (flavones) attenuate significantly the IDO-1 protein activity without harming hNSCs. The inhibitory activity might have partially contributed to the anti-cancer and neuro-protective property of the compounds.
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