The role of tryptophan metabolites in musculoskeletal stem cell aging

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22 Scopus citations


Although aging is considered a normal process, there are cellular and molecular changes that occur with aging that may be detrimental to health. Osteoporosis is one of the most common age‐related degenerative diseases, and its progression correlates with aging and decreased capacity for stem cell differentiation and proliferation in both men and women. Tryptophan metabolism through the kynurenine pathway appears to be a key factor in promoting bone‐aging phenotypes, promoting bone breakdown and interfering with stem cell function and osteogenesis; however, little data is available on the impact of tryptophan metabolites downstream of kynurenine. Here we review available data on the impact of these tryptophan breakdown products on the body in general and, when available, the existing evidence of their impact on bone. A number of tryptophan metabolites (e.g., 3‐hydroxykynurenine (3HKYN), kynurenic acid (KYNA) and anthranilic acid (AA)) have a detrimental effect on bone, decreasing bone mineral density (BMD) and increasing fracture risk. Other metabolites (e.g., 3‐hydroxyAA, xanthurenic acid (XA), picolinic acid (PIA), quinolinic acid (QA), and NAD+) promote an increase in bone mineral density and are associated with lower fracture risk. Furthermore, the effects of other tryptophan breakdown products (e.g., serotonin) are complex, with either anabolic or catabolic actions on bone depending on their source. The mechanisms involved in the cellular actions of these tryptophan metabolites on bone are not yet fully known and will require further research as they are potential therapeutic targets. The current review is meant as a brief overview of existing English language literature on tryptophan and its metabolites and their effects on stem cells and musculoskeletal systems. The search terms used for a Medline database search were: kynurenine, mesenchymal stem cells, bone loss, tryptophan metabolism, aging, and oxidative stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6670
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 2 2020


  • Kynurenine
  • Stem cells
  • Tryptophan metabolites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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