The kynurenine pathway of tryptophan metabolism is involved in the pathogenesis of several brain diseases, but its physiological functions remain unclear. We report that kynurenic acid, a metabolite in this pathway, functions as a regulator of food-dependent behavioral plasticity in C. elegans. The experience of fasting in C. elegans alters a variety of behaviors, including feeding rate, when food is encountered post-fast. Levels of neurally produced kynurenic acid are depleted by fasting, leading to activation of NMDA-receptor-expressing interneurons and initiation of a neuropeptide-y-like signaling axis that promotes elevated feeding through enhanced serotonin release when animals re-encounter food. Upon refeeding, kynurenic acid levels are eventually replenished, ending the elevated feeding period. Because tryptophan is an essential amino acid, these findings suggest that a physiological role of kynurenic acid is in directly linking metabolism to activity of NMDA and serotonergic circuits, which regulate a broad range of behaviors and physiologies.
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