Sources of the neurotoxin quinolinic acid in the brain of HIV-1-infected patients and retrovirus-infected macaques

FASEB J. 1998 Jul;12(10):881-96. doi: 10.1096/fasebj.12.10.881.


This study investigated the sources of quinolinic acid, a neurotoxic tryptophan-kynurenine pathway metabolite, in the brain and blood of HIV-infected patients and retrovirus-infected macaques. In brain, quinolinic acid concentrations in HIV-infected patients were elevated by > 300-fold to concentrations that exceeded cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) by 8.9-fold. There were no significant correlations between elevated serum quinolinic acid levels with those in CSF and brain parenchyma. Because nonretrovirus-induced encephalitis confounds the interpretation of human postmortem data, rhesus macaques infected with retrovirus were used to examine the mechanisms of increased quinolinic acid accumulations and determine the relationships of quinolinic acid to encephalitits and systemic responses. The largest kynurenine pathway responses in brain were associated with encephalitis and were independent of systemic responses. CSF quinolinic acid levels were also elevated in all infected macaques, but particularly those with retrovirus-induced encephalitis. In contrast to the brain changes, there was no difference in any systemic measure between macaques with encephalitis vs. those without. Direct measures of the amount of quinolinic acid in brain derived from blood in a macaque with encephalitis showed that almost all quinolinic acid (>98%) was synthesized locally within the brain. These results demonstrate a role for induction of indoleamine-2,3dioxygenase in accelerating the local formation of quinolinic acid within the brain tissue, particularly in areas of encephalitis, rather than entry of quinolinic acid into the brain from the meninges or blood. Strategies to reduce QUIN production, targeted at intracerebral sites, are potential approaches to therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / blood
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • HIV-1*
  • Humans
  • Kynurenine / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Kynurenine / metabolism
  • Macaca
  • Quinolinic Acid / blood
  • Quinolinic Acid / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Quinolinic Acid / metabolism
  • Retroviridae Infections / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Retroviridae Infections / metabolism*


  • Kynurenine
  • Quinolinic Acid