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Serum analysis of tryptophan catabolism pathway: Correlation with Crohn's disease activity


  • Supported in part by a Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America Career Development Award (to M.A.C.), National Institutes of Health Grants DK075713 (to W.F.S.), DK089016, and L30-RR030244 (to M.A.C.), and P30-DK52574 (Washington University Digestive Diseases Research Core). N.K.G. was the recipient of a WUSM Dept of Internal Medicine Mentors in Medicine grant. A.I.T. was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Medical Research Training Fellow.



Indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase-1 (IDO1) is a tryptophan catabolizing enzyme with immunotolerance-promoting functions. We sought to determine if increased gut expression of IDO1 in Crohn's disease (CD) would result in detectable changes in serum levels of tryptophan and the initial IDO1 pathway catabolite, kynurenine.


Individuals were prospectively enrolled through the Washington University Digestive Diseases Research Center. The Montreal Classification was used for disease phenotyping. Disease severity was categorized by the Physician's Global Assessment. Serum tryptophan and kynurenine were measured by high-pressure liquid chromatography. IDO1 immunohistochemical staining was performed on formalin-fixed tissue blocks.


In all, 25 CD patients and 11 controls were enrolled. Eight CD patients had serum collected at two different timepoints and levels of disease activity compared. Strong IDO1 expression exists in both the lamina propria and epithelium during active CD compared to controls. Suppressed serum tryptophan levels and an elevated kynurenine/tryptophan (K/T) ratio were found in individuals with active CD as compared to those in remission or the control population. K/T ratios correlated positively with disease activity as well as with C-reactive protein and erythrocyte sedimentation rate. In the subgroup of CD patients with two serum measurements, tryptophan levels were elevated while kynurenine levels and the K/T ratio lowered as the disease activity lessened.


IDO1 expression in CD is associated with lower serum tryptophan and an elevated K/T ratio. These levels may serve as a reasonable objective marker of gut mucosal immune activation and as a surrogate for CD activity. (Inflamm Bowel Dis 2011;)