Psychological Stress-Induced, IDO1-Dependent Tryptophan Catabolism: Implications on Immunosuppression in Mice and Humans Journal Articles uri icon

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  • It is increasingly recognized that psychological stress influences inflammatory responses and mood. Here, we investigated whether psychological stress (combined acoustic and restraint stress) activates the tryptophan (Trp) catabolizing enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase 1(IDO1) and thereby alters the immune homeostasis and behavior in mice. We measured IDO1 mRNA expression and plasma levels of Trp catabolites after a single 2-h stress session and in repeatedly stressed (4.5-days stress, 2-h twice a day) na├»ve BALB/c mice. A role of cytokines in acute stress-induced IDO1 activation was studied after IFNgamma and TNFalpha blockade and in IDO1(-/-) mice. RU486 and 1-Methyl-L-tryptophan (1-MT) were used to study role of glucocorticoids and IDO1 on Trp depletion in altering the immune and behavioral response in repeatedly stressed animals. Clinical relevance was addressed by analyzing IDO1 activity in patients expecting abdominal surgery. Acute stress increased the IDO1 mRNA expression in brain, lung, spleen and Peyer's patches (max. 14.1+/-4.9-fold in brain 6-h after stress) and resulted in a transient depletion of Trp (-25.2+/-6.6%) and serotonin (-27.3+/-4.6%) from the plasma measured 6-h after stress while kynurenine levels increased 6-h later (11.2+/-9.3%). IDO1 mRNA up-regulation was blocked by anti-TNFalpha and anti-IFNgamma treatment. Continuous IDO1 blockade by 1-MT but not RU486 treatment normalized the anti-bacterial defense and attenuated increased IL-10 inducibility in splenocytes after repeated stress as it reduced the loss of body weight and behavioral alterations. Moreover, kynurenic acid which remained increased in 1-MT treated repeatedly stressed mice was identified to reduce the TNFalpha inducibility of splenocytes in vitro and in vivo. Thus, psychological stress stimulates cytokine-driven IDO1 activation and Trp depletion which seems to have a central role for developing stress-induced immunosuppression and behavioral alteration. Since patients showed Trp catabolism already prior to surgery, IDO is also a possible target enzyme for humans modulating immune homeostasis and mood.


  • Kiank, Cornelia
  • Zeden, Jan-Philip
  • Drude, Solveig
  • Domanska, Grazyna
  • Fusch, Gerhard
  • Otten, Winfried
  • Schuett, Christine

publication date

  • July 28, 2010