Kynurenic acid and cancer: facts and controversies

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2020 Apr;77(8):1531-1550. doi: 10.1007/s00018-019-03332-w. Epub 2019 Oct 28.


Kynurenic acid (KYNA) is an endogenous tryptophan metabolite exerting neuroprotective and anticonvulsant properties in the brain. However, its importance on the periphery is still not fully elucidated. KYNA is produced endogenously in various types of peripheral cells, tissues and by gastrointestinal microbiota. Furthermore, it was found in several products of daily human diet and its absorption in the digestive tract was evidenced. More recent studies were focused on the potential role of KYNA in carcinogenesis and cancer therapy; however, the results were ambiguous and the biological activity of KYNA in these processes has not been unequivocally established. This review aims to summarize the current views on the relationship between KYNA and cancer. The differences in KYNA concentration between physiological conditions and cancer, as well as KYNA production by both normal and cancer cells, will be discussed. The review also describes the effect of KYNA on cancer cell proliferation and the known potential molecular mechanisms of this activity.

Keywords: AhR; Cancer therapy; Cell cycle; GPR35; Proliferation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Humans
  • Kynurenic Acid / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Signal Transduction


  • Kynurenic Acid