Kynurenine emerges from the shadows - Current knowledge on its fate and function.
Kynurenine (KYN), a main metabolite of tryptophan in mammals, is a direct precursor of kynurenic acid, anthranilic acid and 3-hydroxykynurenine. Under physiological conditions, KYN is produced endogenously mainly in the liver by tryptophan 2,3-dioxygenase (TDO). Tumorigenesis and inflammatory conditions increase the activity of another KYN synthetizing enzyme, indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO). However, knowledge about the exogenous sources and the fate of KYN in mammals is still limited. While most papers deal with the contribution of KYN to pathologies of the central nervous system, its role in the periphery has almost been ignored. KYN is a ligand for the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). As a receptor for KYN and its downstream metabolites, AhR is involved in several physiological and pathological conditions, including inflammation and carcinogenesis. Recent studies have shown that KYN suppresses immune response and is strongly involved in the process of carcinogenesis and tumour metastasis. Thus, inhibition of activity of the enzymes responsible for KYN synthesis, TDO, IDO or genetic manipulation leading to reduction of KYN synthesis, could be considered as innovative strategies for improving the efficacy of immunotherapy. Surprisingly, however, genetic or pharmacological approaches for reducing tryptophan catabolism to KYN do not necessarily result in decrease of KYN level in the main circulation. This review aims to summarize the current knowledge of KYN fate and function and to emphasize its importance for vital physiological and pathological processes.