A distinct profile of tryptophan metabolism along the kynurenine pathway downstream of toll-like receptor activation in irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a disorder of the brain-gut axis, is characterised by the absence of reliable biological markers. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that serves as a precursor to serotonin but which can alternatively be metabolised along the kynurenine pathway leading to the production of other neuroactive agents. We previously reported an increased degradation of tryptophan along this immunoresponsive pathway in IBS. Recently, altered cytokine production following activation of specific members of the toll-like receptor (TLR) family (TLR1-9) has also been demonstrated in IBS. However, the relationship between TLR activation and kynurenine pathway activity in IBS is unknown. In this study, we investigated whether activation of specific TLRs elicits exaggerated kynurenine production in IBS patients compared to controls. Whole blood from IBS patients and healthy controls was cultured with a panel of nine different TLR agonists for 24 h. Cell culture supernatants were then analyzed for both tryptophan and kynurenine concentrations, as were plasma samples from both cohorts. IBS subjects had an elevated plasma kynurenine:tryptophan ratio compared to healthy controls. Furthermore, we demonstrated a differential downstream profile of kynurenine production subsequent to TLR activation in IBS patients compared to healthy controls. This profile included alterations at TLR1/2, TLR2, TLR3, TLR5, TLR7, and TLR8. Our data expands on our previous understanding of altered tryptophan metabolism in IBS and suggests that measurement of tryptophan metabolites downstream of TLR activation may ultimately find utility as components of a biomarker panel to aid gastroenterologists in the diagnosis of IBS. Furthermore, these studies implicate the modulation of TLRs as means through which aberrant tryptophan metabolism along the kynurenine pathway can be controlled, a novel potential therapeutic strategy in this and other disorders.