Activated human microglia produce the excitotoxin quinolinic acid

Neuroreport. 1997 Jan 20;8(2):431-4. doi: 10.1097/00001756-199701200-00011.


We aimed to determine the relative role of quinolinic acid synthesis in purified human microglia, monocyte-derived macrophages and astrocytes in the human brain following immune stimulation. Microglia and macrophages significantly increased quinolinic acid synthesis from tryptophan following activation by either lipopolysaccharide or interferon-gamma. Quinolinic acid synthesis by individual microglia was heterogeneous, and its production by activated macrophages was approximately 32-fold greater than its microglial synthesis. Quinolinic acid synthesis by astrocytes was undetectable. Microglia may, therefore, be the primary endogenous cell type responsible for quinolinic acid synthesis in the brain parenchyma. However, under pathological conditions which precipitate blood-brain barrier compromise and/or leukocytic infiltration, intracerebral quinolinic acid may be derived chiefly from cells of the peripheral immune system such as activated macrophages.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Neurotoxins / metabolism*
  • Quinolinic Acid / metabolism*


  • Neurotoxins
  • Quinolinic Acid