Prenatal stress-induced disruptions in microbial and host tryptophan metabolism and transport

Jeffrey D. Galley, Helen J. Chen, Adrienne M. Antonson, Tamar L. Gur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The aromatic amino acid tryptophan (Trp) is a precursor for multiple metabolites that can steer proper immune and neurodevelopment as well as social behavior in later life. Dysregulation in the Trp metabolic pathways and abundance of Trp or its derivatives, including indoles, kynurenine (Kyn), and particularly serotonin, has been associated with behavioral deficits and neuropsychiatric disorders including autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and schizophrenia. Previously, we have shown that prenatal stress (PNS) alters placental Trp and serotonin, and reduces Trp-metabolizing members of the maternal colonic microbiota. Given that PNS also results in alterations in offspring neurodevelopment, behavior and immune function, we hypothesized that PNS affects Trp metabolism and transport in both the maternal and fetal compartments, and that these alterations continue into adolescence. We surmised that this is due to reductions in Trp-metabolizing microbes that would otherwise reduce the Trp pool under normal metabolic conditions. To test this, pregnant mice were exposed to a restraint stressor and gene expression of enzymes involved in Trp and serotonin metabolism were measured. Specifically, tryptophan 2,3-dioxygenase, aryl hydrocarbon receptor, and solute carrier proteins, were altered due to PNS both prenatally and postnatally. Additionally, Parasutterella and Bifidobacterium, which metabolize Trp in the gut, were reduced in both the dam and the offspring. Together, the reductions of Trp-associated microbes and concomitant dysregulation in Trp metabolic machinery in dam and offspring suggest that PNS-induced Trp metabolic dysfunction may mediate aberrant fetal neurodevelopment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113471
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
StatePublished - Sep 24 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Kynurenine
  • Microbiome
  • Parasutterella
  • Prenatal stress
  • Tryptophan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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