Investigation into the biochemical changes in Tourette Syndrome with a potential for pharmacological manipulation

  • Sandya H. Kariyawasam

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Kynurenine (KYN) is the first stable metabolite of the kynurenine pathway, which
accounts for over 95% of tryptophan metabolism. Two previous studies by this research group reported elevated plasma KYN in Tourette syndrome (TS) patients when compared with age and sex matched controls and another study showed that KYN potentiated 5-HT2A-mediated head-shakes (HS) in rodents. These movements have been suggested to model tics in TS. This raised the questions how KYN acts in eliciting this response and whether it is an action of its own or of a further metabolite along the kynurenine pathway. In the liver, where most of the kynurenine pathway metabolism takes place under physiological conditions, the first and the rate limiting enzyme is tryptophan-dioxygenase (TDO) which can be induced by cortisol. In extrahepatic tissues the same step of the pathway is catalyzed by indoleamine-dioxygenase (IDO), which is induced by cytokines,
predominantly interferon-y (INF-y). Plasma neopterin, which shows parallel increase with KYN following immune stimulation, was also found elevated in one of these studies positively correlating with KYN.
In the present work animal studies suggested that KYN potentiates and quinolinic acid (QUINA) dose dependently inhibits the 5-HT2A-mediated HS response in mice. The potentiating effect seen with KYN was suggested to be an effect of KYN itself. Radioligand binding and phosphoinositide (PI) hydrolysis studies were done to explore the mechanisms by which kynurenine pathway metabolites could alter a 5-HT2A-receptor mediated response. None of the kynurenine pathway metabolites tested showed direct binding to 5-HT2A-receptors. PI hydrolysis studies with KYN and QUINA showed that KYN did not have any effect while QUINA inhibited 5-HT2A-mediated PI hydrolysis.
Plasma cortisol determination in TS patients with elevated plasma KYN did not show elevated plasma cortisol levels, suggesting that the increase of plasma KYN in these TS patients is unlikely to be due to an increased TDO activity induced by increased cortisol. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is commonly associated with TS. Salivary cortisol detected in a group of children primarily affected with ADHD showed significantly lower salivary cortisol levels when compared with age and sex matched controls. Plasma tryptophan, KYN, neopterin, INF-y and KYN/tryptophan ratio and night-time urinary 6-sulphatoxymelatonin (aMT6s) excretion measured in a group of TS patients did not show any difference in their levels when compared with age and sex matched controls, but TS patients failed to show the expected positive correlation seen
between plasma INF-y, neopterin and KYN and the negative correlation seen between plasma KYN and night-time urinary aMT6s excretion seen in healthy controls.
The relevance of the kynurenine pathway, melatonin secretion and cortisol to Tourette Syndrome and associated conditions and the mechanism by which KYN and QUINA alter the 5-HT2A-receptor mediated HS response are discussed.

Date of AwardJul 1999
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorS.L. Handley (Supervisor)


  • Tourette Syndrome
  • kynurenine
  • quinolinic acid
  • head-shakes
  • Interferon-y
  • neopterin
  • cortisol

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