Background: It is unknown whether disrupted tryptophan catabolism is associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected individuals.
Methods: Plasma tryptophan and kynurenic acid were measured in 737 women and men (520 HIV+, 217 HIV-) from the Women's Interagency HIV Study and the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study. Repeated B-mode carotid artery ultrasound imaging was obtained from 2004 through 2013. We examined associations of baseline tryptophan, kynurenic acid, and kynurenic acid-to-tryptophan (KYNA/TRP) ratio, with risk of carotid plaque.
Results: After a 7-year follow-up, 112 participants developed carotid plaque. Compared to those without HIV infection, HIV-infected participants had lower tryptophan (P < .001), higher KYNA/TRP (P = .01), and similar kynurenic acid levels (P = .51). Tryptophan, kynurenic acid, and KYNA/TRP were correlated with T-cell activation (CD38+HLA-DR+) and immune activation markers (serum sCD14, galectin-3) but had few correlations with interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, or CVD risk factors (blood pressure, lipids). Adjusted for demographic and behavioral factors, each standard deviation (SD) increment in tryptophan was associated with a 29% (95% confidence interval [CI], 17%-38%) decreased risk of carotid plaque (P < .001), while each SD increment in kynurenic acid (P = .02) and KYNA/TRP (P < .001) was associated with a 34% (6%-69%) and a 47% (26%-73%) increased risk of carotid plaque, respectively. After further adjustment for CVD risk factors and immune activation markers, these associations were attenuated but remained significant.
Conclusions: Plasma tryptophan-kynurenine metabolites are altered in HIV infection and associated with progression of carotid artery atherosclerosis.