Tryptophan is an essential amino acid and the least abundant constituent of proteins. In parallel it represents a source for two important biochemical pathways: the generation of neurotransmitter 5- hydroxytryptamine (serotonin) by the tetrahydrobiopterin-dependent tryptophan 5-hydroxylase, and the formation of kynurenine derivatives and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotides initiated by the enzymes tryptophan pyrrolase (tryptophan 2,3-dioxygenase, TDO) and indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO). Whereas TDO is located in the liver cells, IDO is expressed in a large variety of cells and is inducible by the cytokine interferon-γ. Therefore, accelerated tryptophan degradation is observed in diseases and disorders concomitant with cellular immune activation, e. g. infectious, autoimmune, and malignant diseases, as well as during pregnancy. According to the cytostatic and antiproliferative properties of tryptophan-depletion on T lymphocytes, activated T-helper type 1 (Th-1) cells may down-regulate immune response via degradation of tryptophan. Especially in states of persistent immune activation availability of free serum tryptophan is diminished and as a consequence of reduced serotonin production, serotonergic functions may as well be affected. Accumulation of neuroactive kynurenine metabolites such as quinolinic acid may contribute to the development of neurologic / psychiatric disorders. Thus, IDO seems to represent a link between the immunological network and neuroendocrine functions with far reaching consequences in regard to the psychological status of patients. These observations provide a basis for the better understanding of mood disorder and related symptoms in chronic diseases.