The kynurenine pathway in brain tumor pathogenesis

Seray Adams, Nady Braidy, Alban Bessesde, Bruce J. Brew, Ross Grant, Charlie Teo, Gilles J. Guillemin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

106 Citations (Scopus)


Brain tumors are among the most common and most chemoresistant tumors. Despite treatment with aggressive treatment strategies, the prognosis for patients harboring malignant gliomas remains dismal. The kynurenine pathway (KP) is the principal route of L-tryptophan catabolism leading to the formation of the essential pyridine nucleotide, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD +), and important neuroactive metabolites, including the neurotoxin, quinolinic acid (QUIN), the neuroprotective agent, picolinic acid (PIC), the TH17/Treg balance modulator, 3-hydroxyanthranilic acid (3-HAA), and the immunosuppressive agent, L-Kynurenine (KYN). This review provides a new perspective on KP dysregulation in defeating antitumor immune responses, specifically bringing light to the lower segment of the KP, particularly QUIN-induced neurotoxicity and downregulation of the enzyme α-amino- β-carboxymuconate-ε-semialdehyde decarboxylase (ACMSD) as a potential mechanism of tumor progression. Given its immunosuppressive effects, 3-HAA produced from the KP may also play a role in suppressing antitumor immunity in human tumors. The enzyme indoleamine 2, 3-dioxygenase (IDO-1) initiates and regulates the first step of the KP in most cells. Mounting evidence directly implicates that the induction and overexpression of IDO-1 in various tumors is a crucial mechanism facilitating tumor immune evasion and persistence. Tryptophan 2, 3-dioxygenase (TDO-2), which initiates the same first step of the KP as IDO-1, has likewise recently been shown to be a mechanism of tumoral immune resistance. Further, it was also recently shown that TDO-2-dependent production of KYN by brain tumors might be a novel mechanism for suppressing antitumor immunity and supporting tumor growth through the activation of the Aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). This newly identified TDO-2-KYN-AhR signaling pathway opens up exciting future research opportunities and may represent a novel therapeutic target in cancer therapy. Our discussion points to a number of KP components, namely TDO-2, IDO-1, and ACMSD, as important therapeutic targets for the treatment of brain cancer. Targeting the KP in brain tumors may represent a viable strategy likely to prevent QUIN-induced neurotoxicity and KYN and 3-HAA-mediated immune suppression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5649-5657
Number of pages9
JournalCancer Research
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


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