Association between microglial activation and serum kynurenine pathway metabolites in multiple sclerosis patients

Maija Saraste*, Markus Matilainen, Cecilia Rajda, Zsolt Galla, Marcus Sucksdorff, László Vécsei, Laura Airas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
28 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Microglial activation associates with MS progression but it is unclear what drives their persistent pro-inflammatory state. Metabolites of the kynurenine pathway (KP), the main metabolism route of tryptophan, can influence the function of brain innate immune cells. Objective: To investigate whether tryptophan metabolites in blood associate with TSPO-PET measurable microglial activation in MS brain. Methods: Microglial activation was detected using PET imaging and the TSPO-binding radioligand [11C]PK11195. Distribution volume ratios (DVR) for specific [11C]PK11195-binding in the normal appearing white matter (NAWM), lesions, and thalamus were calculated. Ultrahigh performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry was used to measure serum levels of tryptophan and kynurenine pathway metabolites. Results: The study cohort consisted of 48 MS patients. Increased DVR in the NAWM and thalamus correlated with decreased serum 3-hydroxykynurenine level (R = -0.31, p = 0.031 and R = -0.32, p = 0.028). Increased EDSS correlated with decreased 3-hydroxykynurenine and xanthurenic acid (R = -0.36, p = 0.012 and R = -0.31, p = 0.034) and increased DVR in the NAWM and thalamus (R = 0.33, p = 0.023 and R = 0.34, p = 0.020, respectively). Conclusions: This clinical study demonstrates an association between low serum 3-hydroxykynurenine and high microglial activation in MS. Further investigations are warranted for elucidation of the biological mechanisms behind this association.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103667
JournalMultiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • 3-hydroxykynurenine
  • Kynurenine pathway
  • Microglia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • PET-imaging
  • TSPO


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