Margaret M. Lowe 1 , Jeff E. Mold 1 , Bittoo Kanwar 1 , 2 , Yong Huang 3 , Alexander Louie 3 , Michael P. Pollastri 4 , Cuihua Wang 4 , Gautam Patel 4 , Diana G. Franks 5 , Jennifer Schlezinger 6 , David H. Sherr 6 , Allen E. Silverstone 7 , Mark E. Hahn 5 , Joseph M. McCune 1 , *
3 February 2014
The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) binds to environmental toxicants including synthetic halogenated aromatic hydrocarbons and is involved in a diverse array of biological processes. Recently, the AHR was shown to control host immunity by affecting the balance between inflammatory T cells that produce IL-17 (Th17) and IL-22 versus regulatory T cells (Treg) involved in tolerance. While environmental AHR ligands can mediate this effect, endogenous ligands are likely to be more relevant in host immune responses. We investigated downstream metabolites of tryptophan as potential AHR ligands because (1) tryptophan metabolites have been implicated in regulating the balance between Th17 and Treg cells and (2) many of the AHR ligands identified thus far are derivatives of tryptophan. We characterized the ability of tryptophan metabolites to bind and activate the AHR and to increase IL-22 production in human T cells. We report that the tryptophan metabolite, cinnabarinic acid (CA), is an AHR ligand that stimulates the differentiation of human and mouse T cells producing IL-22. We compare the IL-22-stimulating activity of CA to that of other tryptophan metabolites and define stimulation conditions that lead to CA production from immune cells. Our findings link tryptophan metabolism to AHR activation and define a novel endogenous AHR agonist with potentially broad biological functions.