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J Neurochem. 2009 Apr;109(2):316-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2009.05893.x. Epub 2009 Feb 6.

On the relationship between the two branches of the kynurenine pathway in the rat brain in vivo.

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Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.


In the mammalian brain, kynurenine aminotransferase II (KAT II) and kynurenine 3-monooxygenase (KMO), key enzymes of the kynurenine pathway (KP) of tryptophan degradation, form the neuroactive metabolites kynurenic acid (KYNA) and 3-hydroxykynurenine (3-HK), respectively. Although physically segregated, both enzymes use the pivotal KP metabolite l-kynurenine as a substrate. We studied the functional consequences of this cellular compartmentalization in vivo using two specific tools, the KAT II inhibitor BFF 122 and the KMO inhibitor UPF 648. The acute effects of selective KAT II or KMO inhibition were studied using a radiotracing method in which the de novo synthesis of KYNA, and of 3-HK and its downstream metabolite quinolinic acid (QUIN), is monitored following an intrastriatal injection of (3)H-kynurenine. In naïve rats, intrastriatal BFF 122 decreased newly formed KYNA by 66%, without influencing 3-HK or QUIN production. Conversely, UPF 648 reduced 3-HK synthesis (by 64%) without affecting KYNA formation. Similar, selective effects of KAT II and KMO inhibition were observed when the inhibitors were applied acutely together with the excitotoxin QUIN, which impairs local KP metabolism. Somewhat different effects of KMO (but not KAT II) inhibition were obtained in rats that had received an intrastriatal QUIN injection 7 days earlier. In these neuron-depleted striata, UPF 648 not only decreased both 3-HK and QUIN production (by 77% and 66%, respectively) but also moderately raised KYNA synthesis (by 27%). These results indicate a remarkable functional segregation of the two pathway branches in the brain, boding well for the development of selective KAT II or KMO inhibitors for cognitive enhancement and neuroprotection, respectively.

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