CSF concentrations of brain tryptophan and kynurenines during immune stimulation with IFN-α: Relationship to CNS immune responses and depression

C. L. Raison, R. Dantzer, K. W. Kelley, M. A. Lawson, B. J. Woolwine, G. Vogt, J. R. Spivey, K. Saito, A. H. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

385 Scopus citations


Cytokine-induced activation of indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) catabolizes L-tryptophan (TRP) into L-kynurenine (KYN), which is metabolized to quinolinic acid (QUIN) and kynurenic acid (KA). QUIN and KA are neuroactive and may contribute to the behavioral changes experienced by some patients during exposure to inflammatory stimuli such as interferon (IFN)-α. A relationship between depressive symptoms and peripheral blood TRP, KYN and KA during treatment with IFN-α has been described. However, whether peripheral blood changes in these IDO catabolites are manifest in the brain and whether they are related to central nervous system cytokine responses and/or behavior is unknown. Accordingly, TRP, KYN, QUIN and KA were measured in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and blood along with CSF concentrations of relevant cytokines, chemokines and soluble cytokine receptors in 27 patients with hepatitis C after 12 weeks of either treatment with IFN-α (n16) or no treatment (n11). Depressive symptoms were assessed using the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale. IFN-α significantly increased peripheral blood KYN, which was accompanied by marked increases in CSF KYN. Increased CSF KYN was in turn associated with significant increases in CSF QUIN and KA. Despite significant decreases in peripheral blood TRP, IFN-α had no effect on CSF TRP concentrations. Increases in CSF KYN and QUIN were correlated with increased CSF IFN-α, soluble tumor necrosis factor-α receptor 2 and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 as well as increased depressive symptoms. In conclusion, peripheral administration of IFN-α activated IDO in concert with central cytokine responses, resulting in increased brain KYN and QUIN, which correlated with depressive symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-403
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2010



  • Cytokines
  • Depression
  • Indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase
  • Kynurenic acid
  • Kynurenine
  • Quinolinic acid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

Cite this

Raison, C. L., Dantzer, R., Kelley, K. W., Lawson, M. A., Woolwine, B. J., Vogt, G., Spivey, J. R., Saito, K., & Miller, A. H. (2010). CSF concentrations of brain tryptophan and kynurenines during immune stimulation with IFN-α: Relationship to CNS immune responses and depression. Molecular Psychiatry, 15(4), 393-403. https://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2009.116