Kynurenine pathway and white matter microstructure in bipolar disorder

Sara Poletti, Aye Mu Myint, Gregor Schüetze, Irene Bollettini, Elena Mazza, Doris Grillitsch, Clara Locatelli, Markus Schwarz, Cristina Colombo, Francesco Benedetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Decreased availability of serotonin in the central nervous system has been suggested to be a central factor in the pathogenesis of depression. Activation of indoleamine 2–3 dioxygenase following a pro-inflammatory state could reduce the amount of tryptophan converted to serotonin and increase the production of tryptophan catabolites such as kynurenic acid, an antagonist of ionotropic excitatory aminoacid receptors, whose levels are reduced in bipolar disorder. Abnormalities in white matter (WM) integrity have been widely reported in BD. We then hypothesized that metabolites involved in serotoninergic turnover in BD could influence DTI measures of WM microstructure. Peripheral levels of tryptophan, kynurenine, kynurenic acid, 3-hydroxy-kynurenine, and 5-HIAA were analysed in 22 patients affected by BD and 15 healthy controls. WM microstructure was evaluated using diffusion tensor imaging and tract-based spatial statistics with threshold-free cluster enhancement only in bipolar patients. We observed that kynurenic acid and 5-HIAA were reduced in BD and associated with DTI measures of WM integrity in several association fibres: inferior and superior longitudinal fasciculus, cingulum bundle, corpus callosum, uncus, anterior thalamic radiation and corona radiata. Our results seem to suggest that higher levels of 5-HIAA, a measure of serotonin levels, and higher levels of kynurenic acid, which protects from glutamate excitotoxicity, could exert a protective effect on WM microstructure. Reduced levels of these metabolites in BD thus seem to confirm a crucial role of serotonin turnover in BD pathophysiology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Sep 12 2016


  • 5-HIAA
  • Bipolar disorder
  • IDO
  • Kynurenic acid
  • TBSS
  • White matter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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