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Alcohol Alcohol. 2014 May-Jun;49(3):251-5. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agu011. Epub 2014 Mar 18.

Tryptophan metabolism in post-withdrawal alcohol-dependent patients.

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  • 1Corresponding author: Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Medical University Innsbruck, Anichstrasse 35, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.



The aim of the study was to investigate the parameters of tryptophan and phenylalanine metabolism and their associations to immune system activation and to behavioural symptoms during medium-term withdrawal (4-12 weeks of abstinence) in alcohol-dependent patients.


Biochemical assays and clinical assessments at the beginning of treatment (fourth week of alcohol abstinence in average) and prior to the discharge after 8 weeks of treatment.


Kynurenine to tryptophan ratio (Kyn/Trp) slightly correlated with neopterin levels in early post-withdrawal period (Week 4 of abstinence) but this association disappeared after 12 weeks of abstinence. Phenylalanine and tyrosine concentrations as well as phenylalanine to tyrosine ratio (Phe/Tyr) decreased between Weeks 4 and 12 of abstinence. Kynurenine and Kyn/Trp increased significantly at 12th week of abstinence when compared with the beginning of the study (Week 4 of abstinence). At Week 12, Kyn/Trp significantly correlated with such behavioural symptoms as fatigue, irritability and sleep disturbances.


Tryptophan breakdown in early stages may be influenced by the increased activity of indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase but the increase of Kyn/Trp between Weeks 4 and 12 of abstinence seems to be independent of immune changes and correlates with behavioural symptoms in later stages of the post-withdrawal course. A possible role of kynurenine metabolites in mediation of the increased stress sensibility in post-withdrawal alcohol-dependent patients is discussed.

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