Tryptophan and its metabolites in normal physiology and cancer etiology

Lizbeth Perez-Castro, Roy Garcia, Niranjan Venkateswaran, Spencer Barnes, Maralice Conacci-Sorrell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Within the growing field of amino acid metabolism, tryptophan (Trp) catabolism is an area of increasing interest. Trp is essential for protein synthesis, and its metabolism gives rise to biologically active catabolites including serotonin and numerous metabolites in the kynurenine (Kyn) pathway. In normal tissues, the production of Trp metabolites is directly regulated by the tissue-specific expression of Trp-metabolizing enzymes. Alterations of these enzymes in cancers can shift the balance and lead to an increased production of specific byproducts that can function as oncometabolites. For example, increased expression of the enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase, which converts Trp into Kyn, leads to an increase in Kyn levels in numerous cancers. Kyn functions as an oncometabolite in cancer cells by promoting the activity of the transcription factor aryl hydrocarbon receptor, which regulates progrowth genes. Moreover, Kyn also inhibits T-cell activity and thus allows cancer cells to evade clearance by the immune system. Therefore, targeting the Kyn pathway has become a therapeutic focus as a novel means to abrogate tumor growth and immune resistance. This review summarizes the biological role and regulation of Trp metabolism and its catabolites with an emphasis on tumor cell growth and immune evasion and outlines areas for future research focus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-27
Number of pages21
JournalFEBS Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • AHR
  • IDO1
  • TDO2
  • cancer
  • immune evasion
  • kynurenine
  • proliferation
  • tryptophan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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