Aims: Immunotherapy with interferon-α (IFN-α) is associated with psychiatric side-effects, including depression. One of the putative pathways underlying these psychiatric side-effects involves tryptophan (TRP) metabolism. Cytokines including IFN-α induce the enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO), which converts TRP to kynurenine (KYN), leading to a shortage of serotonin (5-HT). In addition, the production of neurotoxic metabolites of KYN such as 3-hydroxykynurenine and quinolinic acid (QA) might increase and contribute to IFN-α-induced psychopathology. In contrast, other catabolites of KYN, such as kynurenic acid (KA), are thought to have neuroprotective properties.
Methods: In a group of 24 patients treated with standard IFN-α for metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC), combined psychiatric and laboratory assessments were performed at baseline, 4 and 8 weeks, and at 6 months.
Results: No psychopathology was observed, despite an increase in neurotoxic challenge as reflected in indices for the balance between neurotoxic and neuroprotective metabolites of KYN.
Conclusions: The present hypothesis that a shift in the balance between neurotoxic and neuroprotective metabolites of KYN underlies the neuropsychiatric side-effects of IFN-α-based immunotherapy, is neither supported nor rejected.