An expanding range of targets for kynurenine metabolites of tryptophan

Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2013 Feb;34(2):136-43. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2012 Nov 1.


The kynurenine pathway of tryptophan metabolism accounts for most of the tryptophan that is not committed to protein synthesis and includes compounds active in the nervous and immune systems. Kynurenine acts on the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, affecting the metabolism of xenobiotics and promoting carcinogenesis. Quinolinic acid is an agonist at N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs), but is also pro-oxidant, has immunomodulatory actions, and promotes the formation of hyperphosphorylated tau proteins. Kynurenic acid blocks NMDARs and α7-homomeric nicotinic cholinoceptors and is also an agonist at the orphan G-protein-coupled receptor GPR35. 3-Hydroxykynurenine and 3-hydroxyanthranilic acid have pronounced redox activity and regulate T cell function. Cinnabarinic acid can activate metabotropic glutamate receptors. This review highlights the increasing range of molecular targets for components of the kynurenine pathway in both the nervous and immune systems in relation to their relevance to disease and drug development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Kynurenic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Kynurenine / metabolism*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / drug effects
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Quinolinic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Tryptophan / metabolism*


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Kynurenine
  • Tryptophan
  • Quinolinic Acid
  • Kynurenic Acid