Basically, macrophages hoover up tryptophan and pass it through Indoleamine 2,3,-Dioxygenase (IDO), where it is broken down. This is the pathway for the synthesis of niacin and nicotinamide, which is used to make NAD+.
|(Note the other product, picolinic acid, thought to assist in absorption of minerals chromium and zinc)|
There is the "sickness behaviour" explanation, whereby this response to infection, by making us less active, assists recovery, and the "sequestering" explanation whereby the macrophages act to deny tryptophan to pathogens, so that they don't have the advantage of extra NAD+. However, inflammation has many forms, and neither of these explain the response to chronic inflammation, when more activity and nicotinamide supplements are usually beneficial (nicotinamide seems to help in fighting infections too).
Supposing you are in the state known as reductive stress (not enough NAD+, too much NADH). This is associated with metabolic inflexibility, metabolic syndrome, and so on.
Reductive stress is mentioned by Peter D in this post. It is associated with fatty liver (steatosis) of chronic Hep C infection here, in these words:
the impairment of NADH oxidation to NAD, with consequent NADH accumulation, is a characteristic figure of mitochondrial dysfunction occurring in fatty liver due to high fat diet (HFD) in rats*.
So, how can NADH be converted back to NAD+ in these states? If lactate is available, metabolising this will restore NAD+, if ketone bodies are available, ditto for their interconversion (so exercise or carbohydrate restriction/fasting are protective against reductive stress). Electrophilic methyl groups in the diet - choline, carnitine, SAMe - may accept the H+ from NADH to form methane, which is dissipated.
But electrophilic methyl groups are hard to come by in the type of diets that cause reductive stress. No choline in flour, sugar, or vegetable oil. (Brilliant analysis of why this matters by Paul Jaminet here, also explaining that "high fat diet (HFD) in rats" line above*).
Also, fresh NAD+ can be supplied from outside the cell. From B3 if you're supplementing or eating good food (in which case your cells shouldn't have easily got into a reductive stress state, but requirements for B3 are unusually high for a co-enzyme vitamin). Or, if you're in the fasting state or your dietary B3 is inadequate, from tryptophan via IDO (Tryptophan 2,3-Dioxygenase is the hepatic equivalent). Which inflammation will upregulate.
So the hypothesis is, that reductive stress is an emergency (perhaps mimicking pellagra) that warrants an inflammatory response if this is what it takes to supply extra NAD+. But this process can not only deplete tryptophan and serotonin, but also produce a number of intermediate compounds that can are potentially neurotoxic.
The concentration of potentially neurotoxic compounds, such as 3OH-kynurenine, 3-OH-anthranilic acid, and quinolinic acid (QUIN) that are formed along the metabolic pathway leading from tryptophan to NAD (the kynurenine pathway) significantly increases in blood and cerebrospinal fluid of patients affected by a number of inflammatory neurological disorders and in animal models of immune activation.
So what is the messenger that reductive stress state cells produce, which triggers IDO in macrophages?
Why not the extra superoxide that is produced? This potentiates NF-kappaB,
Under normoxic conditions, NFκB is bound to one of several inhibitory proteins (e.g., IκB) that prevent its nuclear translocation. Hyperoxia or elevations of ROS cause the ubiquination and destruction of the inhibitory proteins, freeing NFκB and allowing it to bind to target gene promoters.