Indoleamine 2,3-Dioxygenase and Its Therapeutic Inhibition in Cancer

Int Rev Cell Mol Biol. 2018;336:175-203. doi: 10.1016/bs.ircmb.2017.07.004. Epub 2017 Sep 21.


The tryptophan catabolic enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase-1 (IDO1) has attracted enormous attention in driving cancer immunosuppression, neovascularization, and metastasis. IDO1 suppresses local CD8+ T effector cells and natural killer cells and induces CD4+ T regulatory cells (iTreg) and myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC). The structurally distinct enzyme tryptophan dioxygenase (TDO) also has been implicated recently in immune escape and metastatic progression. Lastly, emerging evidence suggests that the IDO1-related enzyme IDO2 may support IDO1-mediated iTreg and contribute to B-cell inflammed states in certain cancers. IDO1 and TDO are upregulated widely in neoplastic cells but also variably in stromal, endothelial, and innate immune cells of the tumor microenviroment and in tumor-draining lymph nodes. Pharmacological and genetic proofs in preclinical models of cancer have validated IDO1 as a cancer therapeutic target. IDO1 inhibitors have limited activity on their own but greatly enhance "immunogenic" chemotherapy or immune checkpoint drugs. IDO/TDO function is rooted in inflammatory programming, thereby influencing tumor neovascularization, MDSC generation, and metastasis beyond effects on adaptive immune tolerance. Discovery and development of two small molecule enzyme inhibitors of IDO1 have advanced furthest to date in Phase II/III human trials (epacadostat and navoximod, respectively). Indoximod, a tryptophan mimetic compound with a different mechanism of action in the IDO pathway has also advanced in multiple Phase II trials. Second generation combined IDO/TDO inhibitors may broaden impact in cancer treatment, for example, in addressing IDO1 bypass (inherent resistance) or acquired resistance to IDO1 inhibitors. This review surveys knowledge about IDO1 function and how IDO1 inhibitors reprogram inflammation to heighten therapeutic responses in cancer.

Keywords: Immune escape; Immunoediting; Immunometabolism; Immunosurveillance; Immunotherapy; Inflammation; Tryptophan catabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy*
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase / metabolism
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Inflammation / therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase