Kynurenine pathway metabolic balance influences microglia activity: Targeting kynurenine monooxygenase to dampen neuroinflammation

Allison M. Garrison, Jennifer M. Parrott, Arnulfo Tuñon, Jennifer Delgado, Laney Redus, Jason C. O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Chronic stress or inflammation increases tryptophan metabolism along the kynurenine pathway (KP), and the generation of neuroactive kynurenine metabolites contributes to subsequent depressive-like behaviors. Microglia regulate KP balance by preferentially producing oxidative metabolites, including quinolinic acid. Research has focused on the interplay between cytokines and HPA axis-derived corticosteroids in regulating microglial activity and effects of KP metabolites directly on neurons; however, the potential role that KP metabolites have directly on microglial activity is unknown. Here, murine microglia were stimulated with lipopolysaccharide(LPS). After 6 h, mRNA expression of interleukin(IL)-1β IL-6, tumor necrosis factor(TNF)-α and inducible nitric oxide synthase(iNOS) was dose-dependently increased along with the rate-limiting enzymes for oxidative KP metabolism, indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase(IDO)-1 and kynurenine 3-monooxygenase(KMO). By 24 h post-LPS, kynurenine and quinolinic acid in the media was elevated. Inhibiting KMO with Ro 61-8048 during LPS challenge attenuated extracellular nitrite accumulation and expression of KMO and TNF-α in response to LPS. Similarly, primary microglia isolated from KMO −/− mice exhibited a significantly reduced pro-inflammatory response to LPS compared to WT controls. To determine whether the substrate (kynurenine) or end product (quinolinic acid) of KMO-dependent metabolism modulates the LPS response, microglia were treated with increasing concentrations of L-kynurenine or quinolinic acid in combination with LPS or saline. Interestingly, quinolinic acid did not impact the microglial LPS response. However, L-kynurenine had dose-dependent inhibitory effect on the LPS response. These data are the first to show an anti-inflammatory effect of KMO inhibition on microglia during immune challenge and suggest that KP metabolic balance may play a direct role in regulating microglia activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
StatePublished - Aug 2018


  • Cytokines
  • Inflammation
  • Kynurenine metabolism
  • Microglia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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