The Effects of Naphthenic Acids on Tryptophan Metabolism and Peripheral Serotonin Signalling Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Abstract Introduction: Serotonin produced in the periphery has been shown to affect glucose and lipid homeostasis. The availability of the amino acid tryptophan, the precursor of serotonin, affects serotonin availability. In addition, the metabolism of tryptophan via the kynurenine pathway produces physiologically active metabolites which have been shown to be altered under conditions of increased adiposity and dysglycemia. There is now evidence demonstrating some environmental xenobiotics, known to affect glucose and lipid homeostasis, can also alter serotonin production and key components of the kynurenine pathway. Recent evidence suggests that exposure to compounds present in petroleum and wastewaters from oil and gas extraction sites can impact endocrine signaling and result in aberrant lipid accumulation and altered glycemic control. However, whether any of these changes can be causally ascribed to altered serotonin synthesis/signaling or tryptophan metabolism remains unknown. The goal of this study was to determine the effects of exposure to naphthenic acid (NA), a key toxicant found in wastewater from bitumen (thick crude oil present in oil sands deposits) extraction on the enzymes involved in tryptophan metabolism and serotonin production. Methods: McA-RH7777 rat hepatoma cells, were exposed to a technical NA mixture for 48 hours at concentrations within the reported range of NA found in wastewaters from oil extraction. We assessed mRNA expression for key rate-limiting enzymes involved in tryptophan metabolism that lead to either serotonin [Tph1] and/or kynurenine [Ido2 and Tdo2] production, as well as downstream enzymes in the kynurenine pathway [Afmid, Kyat1, Aadat, Kyat3, Kmo, Haao, Acmsd, Qprt]. We also examined the effects of NA on prostaglandin synthesis [Ptgs1, Ptgs2, Ptges] and signalling [Ptger2, Ptger4] as prostaglandins have been shown to be induced by serotonin and are linked to hepatic fat accumulation. Results: NA treatment significantly increased Tph1 and Ido2 expression; this occurred in association with a significant increase in the expression of the inducible prostaglandin synthase Ptgs2 (COX-2), prostaglandin E synthase Ptges, and prostaglandin receptors Ptger2 and Ptger4. Acmsd was the only downstream enzyme in the kynurenine pathway that was significantly altered by NA treatment. Conclusion: These results provide proof-of-concept that compounds associated with oil sands extraction have the potential to perturb key components of serotonin synthesis (Tph1) and tryptophan metabolism (Ido2, Acmsd). Furthermore, we found that the increase in Tph1 expression paralleled expression of Ptgs2. As increased prostaglandin production has been reported in association with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, these data provide a potential mechanism by which exposure to NA and other petroleum-based compounds may increase the risk of metabolic disease.


  • Jamshed, Laiba
  • Perono, Genevieve A
  • Jamshed, Shanza
  • Cheung, Kim Ann
  • Thomas, Philippe J
  • Holloway, Alison

publication date

  • May 3, 2021