Dramatic changes in oxidative tryptophan metabolism along the kynurenine pathway in experimental cerebral and noncerebral malaria

Am J Pathol. 1998 Feb;152(2):611-9.


The pathogenesis of human cerebral malaria (CM) remains unresolved. In the most widely used murine model of CM, the presence of T lymphocytes and/or interferon (IFN)-gamma is a prerequisite. IFN-gamma is the key inducer of indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO), which is the catalyst of the first, and rate-limiting, step in the metabolism of tryptophan (Trp) along the kynurenine (Kyn) pathway. Quinolinic acid (QA), a product of this pathway, is a neuro-excitotoxin, like glutamic acid (Glu) and aspartic acid (Asp). Kynurenic acid (KA), also produced from the Kyn pathway, antagonizes the neuro-excitotoxic effects of QA, Glu, and Asp. We therefore examined the possible roles of IDO, metabolites of the Kyn pathway, Glu, and Asp in the pathogenesis of fatal murine CM. Plasmodium berghei ANKA infection was studied on days 6 and 7 post-inoculation (p.i.), at which time the mice exhibited cerebral symptoms such as convulsions, ataxia, coma, and a positive Wooly/White sign and died within 24 hours. A model for noncerebral malaria (NCM), P. berghei K173 infection, was also studied on days 6 and 7 and 13 to 17 p.i. to examine whether any changes were a general response to malaria infection. Biochemical analyses were done by high-pressure liquid chromatography and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry/mass spectrometry (GC/MS/MS). IDO activity was low or absent in the brains of uninfected mice and NCM mice (days 6 and 7 p.i.) and was induced strongly in the brains of fatal murine CM mice (days 6 and 7 p.i.) and NCM animals (days 13 to 17 p.i.). This induction was inhibited greatly by administration of dexamethasone, a treatment that also prevented CM symptoms and death. Furthermore, IDO induction was absent in IFN-gamma gene knockout mice, which were also resistant to CM. Brain concentrations of Kyn, 3-hydroxykynurenine, and the neuro-excitotoxin QA were significantly increased in both CM mice on days 6 and 7 p.i. and NCM mice on days 13 to 17 p.i., whereas an increase in the ratio of brain QA to KA occurred only in the CM mice at the time they were exhibiting cerebral symptoms. Brain concentrations of Glu and Asp were significantly decreased in CM and NCM mice (days 13 to 17 p.i.). The results imply that neuro-excitation induced by QA may contribute to the convulsions and neuro-excitatory signs observed in CM.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aspartic Acid / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain Diseases / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase
  • Interferon-gamma / genetics
  • Kynurenine / metabolism*
  • Malaria / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred CBA
  • Mice, Knockout / genetics
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Quinolinic Acid / metabolism
  • Tryptophan / metabolism*
  • Tryptophan Oxygenase / metabolism


  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase
  • Aspartic Acid
  • Kynurenine
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Tryptophan
  • Tryptophan Oxygenase
  • Quinolinic Acid