The role of the amino acid tryptophan in the generation of 5-hydroxy-tryptamine (5-HT) has been expanded over the past 30 years with recognition that its oxidation by indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) results in the formation of kynurenine and metabolites which regulate neuronal excitability, psychiatric status, immune cell activity and balance, and probably implantation and the development of embryos. While the amount of work on this kynurenine pathway continues to accelerate, it is important that disagreements about results, differences of interpretation or problems with technical issues are presented openly and discussed thoroughly so that new research is not mis-led in ways that could have been foreseen. In this issue of Clinical Science, Badawy et al. discuss in depth two opposing views of how changes in tryptophan availability or utilisation bring about their effects on cell function. The original concept that local depletion of tryptophan is responsible seems to be less attractive than the view that kynurenine and its metabolites have direct, potent actions on cells. This conclusion not only clarifies our understanding of the importance of tryptophan metabolism to kynurenine but also raises the possibility that the actions of those metabolites could be novel targets for the development of agonists and antagonists with a range of medical implications.