Increased kynurenine-to-tryptophan ratio in the serum of patients infected with SARS-CoV2: An observational cohort study.

Biochimica et biophysica acta. Molecular basis of disease. 2021;1867(3):166042

Plain language summary

Covid-19 infection may alter the immune system, but exactly how is still unclear. A key pathway in the regulation of the immune system is the kynurenine pathway of tryptopham. This observational cohort study aimed to determine how this pathway was affected following infection with Covid-19. The results showed that compared to healthy patients, individuals who tested positive to Covid-19 had an increased ratio of kynurenine:tryptopham and the increase was more pronounced in those who had severe infection and if they were male. It was concluded that the kynurenin:tryptopham ratio could be used as a marker for disease severity and useful for treatments. This study could be used by healthcare professionals to use the kynurenine:tryptopham ratio as a marker for disease severity and stratify patients accordingly for treatments.


Immune dysregulation is a hallmark of patients infected by SARS-CoV2 and the balance between immune reactivity and tolerance is a key determinant of all stages of infection, including the excessive inflammatory state causing the acute respiratory distress syndrome. The kynurenine pathway (KP) of tryptophan (Trp) metabolism is activated by pro-inflammatory cytokines and drives mechanisms of immune tolerance. We examined the state of activation of the KP by measuring the Kyn:Trp ratio in the serum of healthy subjects (n = 239), and SARS-CoV2-negative (n = 305) and -positive patients (n = 89). Patients were recruited at the Emergency Room of St. Andrea Hospital (Rome, Italy). Kyn and Trp serum levels were assessed by HPLC/MS-MS. Compared to healthy controls, both SARS-CoV2-negative and -positive patients showed an increase in the Kyn:Trp ratio. The increase was larger in SARS-CoV2-positive patients, with a significant difference between SARS-CoV2-positive and -negative patients. In addition, the increase was more prominent in males, and positively correlated with age and severity of SARS-CoV2 infection, categorized as follows: 1 = no need for intensive care unit (ICU); 2 ≤ 3 weeks spent in ICU; 3 ≥ 3 weeks spent in ICU; and 4 = death. The highest Kyn:Trp values were found in SARS-CoV2-positive patients with severe lymphopenia. These findings suggest that the Kyn:Trp ratio reflects the level of inflammation associated with SARS-CoV2 infection, and, therefore, might represent a valuable biomarker for therapeutic intervention.

Lifestyle medicine

Fundamental Clinical Imbalances : Immune and inflammation
Patient Centred Factors : Triggers/Covid-19
Environmental Inputs : Microorganisms
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Not applicable
Functional Laboratory Testing : Blood

Methodological quality

Jadad score : Not applicable
Allocation concealment : Not applicable
Publication Type : Journal Article


Nutrition Evidence keywords : Metabolic pathway ; Immune response