Suicidality and Activation of the Kynurenine Pathway of Tryptophan Metabolism

Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2017;31:269-284. doi: 10.1007/7854_2016_5.


A recent report by the World Health Organization declared suicide to be a major global problem. With more than 800,000 lives lost each year, suicide is calculated to be the 14th leading cause of death around the world. While the biological mechanisms causing suicidal ideation and behavior are not fully understood, increased levels of inflammation, arising from various sources, have been detected in the central nervous system and the peripheral blood of suicidal patients and suicide completers. Inflammation induces the kynurenine pathway of tryptophan metabolism, which generates a range of metabolites with potent effects on neurotransmitter systems as well as on inflammation. Recent evidence indicates that a dysregulation of the enzymes in the kynurenine pathway may be present in suicidal patients, with a resulting imbalance of metabolites that modulate glutamate neurotransmission and neuroinflammation. As the body of research in these areas grows, targeting the kynurenine pathway enzymes and metabolites may provide novel therapeutic opportunities for detection, treatment, and ultimately prevention of suicidal behavior.

Keywords: 3-Hydroxyanthranilic acid; Cytokine; Depression; Glutamate; Inflammation; Kynurenic acid; Kynurenine pathway; Picolinic acid; Quinolinic acid.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Kynurenine / metabolism*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways*
  • Suicide*
  • Tryptophan / metabolism*


  • Kynurenine
  • Tryptophan