Acute Psychological Stress Modulates the Expression of Enzymes Involved in the Kynurenine Pathway throughout Corticolimbic Circuits in Adult Male Rats

Neural Plast. 2016;2016:7215684. doi: 10.1155/2016/7215684. Epub 2015 Dec 27.


Tryptophan is an essential dietary amino acid that is necessary for protein synthesis, but also serves as the precursor for serotonin. However, in addition to these biological functions, tryptophan also serves as a precursor for the kynurenine pathway, which has neurotoxic (quinolinic acid) and neuroprotective (kynurenic acid) metabolites. Glucocorticoid hormones and inflammatory mediators, both of which are increased by stress, have been shown to bias tryptophan along the kynurenine pathway and away from serotonin synthesis; however, to date, there is no published data regarding the effects of stress on enzymes regulating the kynurenine pathway in a regional manner throughout the brain. Herein, we examined the effects of an acute psychological stress (120 min restraint) on gene expression patterns of enzymes along the kynurenine pathway over a protracted time-course (1-24 h post-stress termination) within the amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and medial prefrontal cortex. Time-dependent changes in differential enzymes along the kynurenine metabolism pathway, particularly those involved in the production of quinolinic acid, were found within the amygdala, hypothalamus, and medial prefrontal cortex, with no changes seen in the hippocampus. These regional differences acutely may provide mechanistic insight into processes that become dysregulated chronically in stress-associated disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase / genetics
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase / metabolism
  • Kynurenic Acid / metabolism*
  • Kynurenine / metabolism*
  • Limbic System / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Quinolinic Acid / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Up-Regulation


  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase
  • Kynurenine
  • Quinolinic Acid
  • Kynurenic Acid
  • Corticosterone