Chromatographic analysis of tryptophan metabolites

J Sep Sci. 2017 Aug;40(15):3020-3045. doi: 10.1002/jssc.201700184. Epub 2017 Jun 26.


The kynurenine pathway generates multiple tryptophan metabolites called collectively kynurenines and leads to formation of the enzyme cofactor nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide. The first step in this pathway is tryptophan degradation, initiated by the rate-limiting enzymes indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase, or tryptophan 2,3-dioxygenase, depending on the tissue. The balanced kynurenine metabolism, which has been a subject of multiple studies in last decades, plays an important role in several physiological and pathological conditions such as infections, autoimmunity, neurological disorders, cancer, cataracts, as well as pregnancy. Understanding the regulation of tryptophan depletion provide novel diagnostic and treatment opportunities, however it requires reliable methods for quantification of kynurenines in biological samples with complex composition (body fluids, tissues, or cells). Trace concentrations, interference of sample components, and instability of some tryptophan metabolites need to be addressed using analytical methods. The novel separation approaches and optimized extraction protocols help to overcome difficulties in analyzing kynurenines within the complex tissue material. Recent developments in chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry provide new opportunity for quantification of tryptophan and its degradation products in various biological samples. In this review, we present current accomplishments in the chromatographic methodologies proposed for detection of tryptophan metabolites and provide a guide for choosing the optimal approach.

Keywords: chromatography; kynurenine pathway; kynurenines; tissue analysis; tryptophan metabolites.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography*
  • Humans
  • Kynurenine / analysis*
  • Tryptophan / analysis*
  • Tryptophan / metabolism


  • Kynurenine
  • Tryptophan