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The gut microbiota influences the health of the host, especially with regard to gut immune homeostasis and the intestinal immune response. In addition to serving as a nutrient enhancer, L-tryptophan (Trp) plays crucial roles in the balance between intestinal immune tolerance and gut microbiota maintenance.
Recent discoveries have underscored that changes in the microbiota modulate the host immune system by modulating Trp metabolism. Moreover, Trp, endogenous Trp metabolites (kynurenines, serotonin, and melatonin), and bacterial Trp metabolites (indole, indolic acid, skatole, and tryptamine) have profound effects on gut microbial composition, microbial metabolism, the host’s immune system, the host-microbiome interface, and host immune system–intestinal microbiota interactions. The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) mediates the regulation of intestinal immunity by Trp metabolites (as ligands of AhR), which is beneficial for immune homeostasis. Among Trp metabolites, AhR ligands consist of endogenous metabolites, including kynurenine, kynurenic acid, xanthurenic acid, and cinnabarinic acid, and bacterial metabolites, including indole, indole propionic acid, indole acetic acid, skatole, and tryptamine. Additional factors, such as aging, stress, probiotics, and diseases (spondyloarthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal cancer), which are associated with variability in Trp metabolism, can influence Trp–microbiome–immune system interactions in the gut and also play roles in regulating gut immunity.
This review clarifies how the gut microbiota regulates Trp metabolism and identifies the underlying molecular mechanisms of these interactions. Increased mechanistic insight into how the microbiota modulates the intestinal immune system through Trp metabolism may allow for the identification of innovative microbiota-based diagnostics, as well as appropriate nutritional supplementation of Trp to prevent or alleviate intestinal inflammation. Moreover, this review provides new insight regarding the influence of the gut microbiota on Trp metabolism. Additional comprehensive analyses of targeted Trp metabolites (including endogenous and bacterial metabolites) are essential for experimental preciseness, as the influence of the gut microbiota cannot be neglected, and may explain contradictory results in the literature.