The tryptophan metabolism enzyme L-kynureninase is a novel inflammatory factor in psoriasis and other inflammatory diseases

Jamie L. Harden, Steven M. Lewis, Samantha R. Lish, Mayte Suárez-Fariñas, Daniel Gareau, Tim Lentini, Leanne M. Johnson-Huang, James G. Krueger, Michelle A. Lowes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Background Many human diseases arise from or have pathogenic contributions from a dysregulated immune response. One pathway with immunomodulatory ability is the tryptophan metabolism pathway, which promotes immune suppression through the enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) and subsequent production of kynurenine. However, in patients with chronic inflammatory skin disease, such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis (AD), another tryptophan metabolism enzyme downstream of IDO, L-kynureninase (KYNU), is heavily upregulated. The role of KYNU has not been explored in patients with these skin diseases or in general human immunology. Objective We sought to explore the expression and potential immunologic function of the tryptophan metabolism enzyme KYNU in inflammatory skin disease and its potential contribution to general human immunology. Methods Psoriatic skin biopsy specimens, as well as normal human skin, blood, and primary cells, were used to investigate the immunologic role of KYNU and tryptophan metabolites. Results Here we show that KYNU+ cells, predominantly of myeloid origin, infiltrate psoriatic lesional skin. KYNU expression positively correlates with disease severity and inflammation and is reduced on successful treatment of psoriasis or AD. Tryptophan metabolites downstream of KYNU upregulate several cytokines, chemokines, and cell adhesions. By mining data on several human diseases, we found that in patients with cancer, IDO is preferentially upregulated compared with KYNU, whereas in patients with inflammatory diseases, such as AD, KYNU is preferentially upregulated compared with IDO. Conclusion Our results suggest that tryptophan metabolism might dichotomously modulate immune responses, with KYNU as a switch between immunosuppressive versus inflammatory outcomes. Although tryptophan metabolism is increased in many human diseases, how tryptophan metabolism is proceeding might qualitatively affect the immune response in patients with that disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1830-1840
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • L-kynureninase
  • Psoriasis vulgaris
  • inflammation
  • tryptophan metabolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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