Accumulating evidence suggests the key role of the kynurenine pathway (KP) of the tryptophan metabolism in the pathogenesis of several diseases. Despite extensive research aimed at clarifying the mechanisms underlying the development and maintenance of neuropathic pain, the roles of KP metabolites in this process are still not fully known. Although the function of the peripheral KP has been known for several years, it has only recently been acknowledged that its metabolites within the central nervous system have remarkable consequences related to physiology and behavior. Both the products and metabolites of the KP are involved in the pathogenesis of pain conditions. Apart from the neuroactive properties of kynurenines, the KP regulates several neurotransmitter systems in direct or indirect ways. Some neuroactive metabolites are known to have neuroprotective properties (kynurenic acid, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide cofactor), while others are toxic (3-hydroxykynurenine, quinolinic acid). Numerous animal models show that modulation of the KP may turn out to be a viable target for the treatment of diseases. Importantly, some compounds that affect KP enzymes are currently described to possess analgesic properties. Additionally, kynurenine metabolites may be useful for assessing response to therapy or as biomarkers in therapeutic monitoring. The following review describes the molecular site of action and changes in the levels of metabolites of the kynurenine pathway in the pathogenesis of various conditions, with a particular emphasis on their involvement in neuropathy. Moreover, the potential clinical implications of KP modulation in chronic pain therapy as well as the directions of new research initiatives are discussed.
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