Microbiota-dependent indole production stimulates the development of collagen-induced arthritis in mice

J Clin Invest. 2023 Dec 19;134(4):e167671. doi: 10.1172/JCI167671.


Altered tryptophan catabolism has been identified in inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and spondyloarthritis (SpA), but the causal mechanisms linking tryptophan metabolites to disease are unknown. Using the collagen-induced arthritis (CIA) model, we identified alterations in tryptophan metabolism, and specifically indole, that correlated with disease. We demonstrated that both bacteria and dietary tryptophan were required for disease and that indole supplementation was sufficient to induce disease in their absence. When mice with CIA on a low-tryptophan diet were supplemented with indole, we observed significant increases in serum IL-6, TNF, and IL-1β; splenic RORγt+CD4+ T cells and ex vivo collagen-stimulated IL-17 production; and a pattern of anti-collagen antibody isotype switching and glycosylation that corresponded with increased complement fixation. IL-23 neutralization reduced disease severity in indole-induced CIA. Finally, exposure of human colonic lymphocytes to indole increased the expression of genes involved in IL-17 signaling and plasma cell activation. Altogether, we propose a mechanism by which intestinal dysbiosis during inflammatory arthritis results in altered tryptophan catabolism, leading to indole stimulation of arthritis development. Blockade of indole generation may present a unique therapeutic pathway for RA and SpA.

Keywords: Amino acid metabolism; Autoimmunity; Bacterial infections; Mouse models.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Experimental*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid* / genetics
  • Collagen
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-17 / genetics
  • Interleukin-17 / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Microbiota*
  • Tryptophan


  • Interleukin-17
  • Tryptophan
  • Collagen