The role of tryptophan metabolism in postpartum depression

Metab Brain Dis. 2018 Jun;33(3):647-660. doi: 10.1007/s11011-017-0178-y. Epub 2018 Jan 6.


The Postpartum depression (PPD) is the most common postpartum psychiatric disorder, afflicting approximately 10%-20% of new mothers. Clinical symptoms of the PPD include depressive disorder, agitation, insomnia, anxiety and confusion, resulting in an increase in suicidal tendencies, thereby having significant impacts on the puerpera, newborn and their family. A growing body of data indicate a role for alterations in tryptophan metabolism in the PPD. The metabolism of tryptophan produces an array of crucial factors that can differentially regulate key physiological processes linked to the PPD. Importantly, an increase in stress hormones and immune-inflammatory activity drives tryptophan to the production of neuroregulatory kynurenine pathway products and away from the serotonin and melatonin pathways. This links the PPD to other disorders of depressed mood, which are classically associated with decreased serotonin and melatonin, coupled to increases in kynurenine pathway products. Several kynurenine pathway products, such as kynurenic acid and quinolinic acid, can have neuroregulatory effects, with consequences pathological underpinnings of the PPD. The current article reviews the role of alterations in tryptophan metabolism in the PPD.

Keywords: Kynurenine pathway; Postpartum depression; Serotonin pathway; Tryptophan metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Depression / metabolism*
  • Depression, Postpartum / metabolism*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kynurenine / metabolism*
  • Quinolinic Acid / metabolism
  • Tryptophan / metabolism*


  • Kynurenine
  • Tryptophan
  • Quinolinic Acid