Exploring the kynurenine pathway in mild traumatic brain injury: A longitudinal study

Koen Visser, Diana Ciubotariu, Myrthe E de Koning, Bram Jacobs, Martijn van Faassen, Claude van der Ley, Andrew R Mayer, Timothy B Meier, Arno R Bourgonje, Ido P Kema, Harry van Goor, Joukje van der Naalt, Harm J van der Horn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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A potential source of novel biomarkers for mTBI is the kynurenine pathway (KP), a metabolic pathway of tryptophan (Trp), that is up-regulated by neuroinflammation and stress. Considering that metabolites of the KP (kynurenines) are implicated in various neuropsychiatric diseases, exploration of this pathway could potentially bridge the gap between physiological and psychological factors in the recovery process after mTBI. This study, therefore, set out to characterize the KP after mTBI and to examine associations with long-term outcome. Patients were prospectively recruited at the emergency department (ED), and blood samples were obtained in the acute phase (<24 h; N = 256) and at 1-month follow-up (N = 146). A comparison group of healthy controls (HC; N = 32) was studied at both timepoints. Trp, kynurenines, and interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-10 were quantified in plasma. Clinical outcome was measured at six months post-injury. Trp, xanthurenic acid (XA), and picolinic acid (PA) were significantly reduced in patients with mTBI relative to HC, corrected for age and sex. For Trp (d = -0.57 vs. d = -0.29) and XA (d = -0.98 vs. d = -0.32), larger effects sizes were observed during the acute phase compared to one-month follow-up, while for PA (d = -0.49 vs. d = -0.52) effect sizes remained consistent. Findings for other kynurenines (e.g., kynurenine, kynurenic acid, and quinolinic acid) were non-significant after correction for multiple testing. Within the mTBI group, lower acute Trp levels were significantly related to incomplete functional recovery and higher depression scores at 6 months post-injury. No significant relationships were found for Trp, XA, and PA with IL-6 or IL-10 concentrations. In conclusion, our findings indicate that perturbations of the plasma KP in the hyperacute phase of mTBI and 1 month later are limited to the precursor Trp, and glutamate system modulating kynurenines XA and PA. Correlations between acute reductions of Trp and unfavorable outcomes may suggest a potential substrate for pharmacological intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurochemistry
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21-May-2024


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