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Concept: Aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator


The susceptibility to autoimmune diseases is affected by genetic and environmental factors. In rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the shared epitope (SE), a five-amino acid sequence motif encoded by RA-associated HLA-DRB1 alleles, is the single most significant genetic risk factor. The risk conferred by the SE is increased in a multiplicative way by exposure to various environmental pollutants, such as cigarette smoke. The mechanism of this synergistic interaction is unknown. It is worth noting that the SE has recently been found to act as a signal transduction ligand that facilitates differentiation of Th17 cells and osteoclasts in vitro and in vivo. Intriguingly, the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a transcription factor that mediates the xenobiotic effects of many pollutants, including tobacco combustion products, has been found to activate similar biologic effects. Prompted by these similarities, we sought to determine whether the SE and AhR signaling pathways interact in autoimmune arthritis. Here we uncovered a nuclear factor kappa B-mediated synergistic interaction between the SE and AhR pathways that leads to markedly enhanced osteoclast differentiation and Th17 polarization in vitro. Administration of AhR pathway agonists to transgenic mice carrying human SE-coding alleles resulted in a robust increase in arthritis severity, bone destruction, overabundance of osteoclasts, and IL17-expressing cells in the inflamed joints and draining lymph nodes of arthritic mice. Thus, this study identifies a previously unrecognized mechanism of gene-environment interaction that could provide insights into the well-described but poorly understood amplification of the genetic risk for RA upon exposure to environmental pollutants.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Signal transduction, Rheumatoid arthritis, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator


The body’s surfaces form the interface with the external environment, protecting the host. These epithelial barriers are also colonized by a controlled diversity of microorganisms, disturbances of which can give rise to disease. Specialized intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs), which reside at these sites, are important as a first line of defense as well as in epithelial barrier organization and wound repair. We show here that the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) is a crucial regulator in maintaining IEL numbers in both the skin and the intestine. In the intestine, AhR deficiency or the lack of AhR ligands compromises the maintenance of IELs and the control of the microbial load and composition, resulting in heightened immune activation and increased vulnerability to epithelial damage. AhR activity can be regulated by dietary components, such as those present in cruciferous vegetables, providing a mechanistic link between dietary compounds, the intestinal immune system, and the microbiota.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Archaea, Bacteria, Humoral immunity, Skin, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor


Environmental stimuli are known to contribute to psoriasis pathogenesis and that of other autoimmune diseases, but the mechanisms are largely unknown. Here we show that the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a transcription factor that senses environmental stimuli, modulates pathology in psoriasis. AhR-activating ligands reduced inflammation in the lesional skin of psoriasis patients, whereas AhR antagonists increased inflammation. Similarly, AhR signaling via the endogenous ligand FICZ reduced the inflammatory response in the imiquimod-induced model of skin inflammation and AhR-deficient mice exhibited a substantial exacerbation of the disease, compared to AhR-sufficient controls. Nonhematopoietic cells, in particular keratinocytes, were responsible for this hyperinflammatory response, which involved upregulation of AP-1 family members of transcription factors. Thus, our data suggest a critical role for AhR in the regulation of inflammatory responses and open the possibility for novel therapeutic strategies in chronic inflammatory disorders.

Concepts: Immune system, Inflammation, DNA, Gene expression, Transcription factor, Receptor antagonist, Psoriasis, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator


Endogenous tryptophan (Trp) metabolites have an important role in mammalian gut immune homeostasis, yet the potential contribution of Trp metabolites from resident microbiota has never been addressed experimentally. Here, we describe a metabolic pathway whereby Trp metabolites from the microbiota balance mucosal reactivity in mice. Switching from sugar to Trp as an energy source (e.g., under conditions of unrestricted Trp availability), highly adaptive lactobacilli are expanded and produce an aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) ligand-indole-3-aldehyde-that contributes to AhR-dependent Il22 transcription. The resulting IL-22-dependent balanced mucosal response allows for survival of mixed microbial communities yet provides colonization resistance to the fungus Candida albicans and mucosal protection from inflammation. Thus, the microbiota-AhR axis might represent an important strategy pursued by coevolutive commensalism for fine tuning host mucosal reactivity contingent on Trp catabolism.

Concepts: Bacteria, Metabolism, Energy, Organism, Yeast, Hydrocarbon, Candida albicans, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator


In humans, the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) gene battery constitutes a set of contaminant-responsive genes, which have been recently shown to be involved in the regulation of several patho-physiological conditions, including tumorigenesis. As the domestic dog represents a valuable animal model in comparative oncology, mRNA levels of cytochromes P450 1A1, 1A2 and 1B1 (CYP1A1, 1A2 and 1B1), AHR, AHR nuclear translocator (ARNT), AHR repressor (AHRR, whose partial sequence was here obtained) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2) were measured in dog control tissues (liver, skin, mammary gland and bone), in 47 mast cell tumors (MCTs), 32 mammary tumors (MTs), 5 osteosarcoma (OSA) and related surgical margins. Target genes were constitutively expressed in the dog, confirming the available human data. Furthermore, their pattern of expression in tumor biopsies was comparable to that already described in a variety of human cancers; in particular, both AHR and COX2 genes were up-regulated and positively correlated, while CYP1A1 and CYP1A2 mRNAs were generally poorly expressed. This work demonstrated for the first time that target mRNAs are expressed in neoplastic tissues of dogs, thereby increasing the knowledge about dog cancer biology and confirming this species as an useful animal model for comparative studies on human oncology.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Cancer, Oncology, Tumor, Neoplasm, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor


The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) and AHR nuclear translocator (ARNT) activated complex regulates genes in response to the environmental contaminant 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). AHR has also emerged as a potential therapeutic target for the treatment of human diseases and different cancers, including breast cancer. To better understand AHR and ARNT signaling in breast cancer cells, we used chromatin immunoprecipitation linked to high-throughput sequencing to identify AHR- and ARNT-binding sites across the genome in TCDD-treated MCF-7 cells. We identified 2594 AHR-bound, 1352 ARNT-bound, and 882 AHR/ARNT cobound regions. No significant differences in the genomic distribution of AHR and ARNT were observed. Approximately 60% of the cobound regions contained at least one core an aryl hydrocarbon response element (AHRE), 5'-GCGTG-3'. AHR/ARNT peak density was the highest within 1kb of transcription start sites (TSS); however, a number of AHR/ARNT cobound regions were located as far as 100kb from TSS. De novo motif discovery identified a symmetrical variation of the AHRE (5'-GTGCGTG-3'), as well as FOXA1 and SP1 binding motifs. Microarray analysis identified 104 TCDD-responsive genes where 98 genes were upregulated by TCDD. Of the 104 regulated genes, 69 (66.3%) were associated with an AHR- or ARNT-bound region within 100kb of their TSS. Overall our study identified AHR/ARNT cobound regions across the genome, revealed the importance but not absolute requirement for an AHRE in AHR/ARNT interactions with DNA, and identified a modified AHRE motif, thereby increasing our understanding of AHR/ARNT signaling pathway.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene expression, Cancer, Breast cancer, Cancer staging, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor


Embryo toxicity of particles generated by combustion processes is of special concern for human health. A significant part of these toxic effects is linked to the binding of some pollutants (like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs) to the Aryl hydrocarbon Receptor (AhR) and the activation of target genes, like the cytochrome P4501A. This activity was analyzed for ambient air and coal-combustion particle extracts in zebrafish embryos (the cyp1aDarT assay) and in two single-cell bioassays: the yeast-based YCM-RYA and the DR-luc (rat cells) assay. Observed AhR ligand activity of samples generally correlated to the predicted toxic effect according to their PAH composition, except for one of the coal combustion samples with an anomalously high activity in the cyp1aDarT assay. This sample induced deformities in zebrafish embryos. We concluded that the combination of morphological and molecular assays may detect embryonic toxic effects that cannot be predicted from chemical analyses or single-cell bioassays.

Concepts: Carbon, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, Benzene, Toxicology, Hydrocarbon, Toxicity, Aromatic hydrocarbon, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator


The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) is a ligand-dependent transcription factor that mediates the biological and toxic effects of a wide variety of structurally diverse chemicals, including the toxic environmental contaminant 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). While significant interspecies differences in AHR ligand binding specificity, selectivity and response have been observed, the structural determinants responsible have not been determined and homology models of the AHR ligand-binding domain (LBD) are available for only a few species. Here we describe the development and comparative analysis of homology models of the LBD of sixteen AHRs from twelve mammalian and nonmammalian species and identify the specific residues contained within their ligand binding cavities. The ligand-binding cavity of the fish AHR exhibits differences from mammalian and avian AHRs, suggesting a slightly different TCDD binding mode. Comparison of the internal cavity in the LBD model of zebrafish (zf) AHR2, which binds TCDD with high affinity, to that of zfAHR1a, which does not bind TCDD, revealed that the latter has a dramatically shortened binding cavity due to the side chains of three residues (Tyr296, Thr386, His388) that reduce the internal space available to TCDD. Mutagenesis of two of these residues in zfAhR1a to those present in zfAHR2 (Y296H, T386A) restored the ability of zfAHR1a to bind TCDD and to exhibit TCDD-dependent binding to DNA. These results demonstrate the importance of these two amino acids and highlight the predictive potential of comparative analysis of homology models from diverse species. The availability of these AHR LBD homology models will facilitate in depth comparative studies of AHR ligand binding and ligand-dependent AHR activation and provide a novel avenue to examine species specific differences in AHR responsiveness.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Receptor, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor


Perinatal exposure to a low level of dioxin, a ubiquitous environmental pollutant, has been shown to induce abnormalities in learning and memory, emotion, and sociality in laboratory animals later in adulthood. However, how aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) signaling activation disrupts the higher brain function remains unclear. Therefore, we studied the possible effects of excessive activation of AhR signaling on neurodevelopmental processes, such as cellular migration and neurite growth, in mice. To this end, we transfected a constitutively active-AhR plasmid into stem cells in the lateral ventricle by in vivo electroporation on postnatal day 1. Transfection was found to induce tangential migration delay and morphological abnormalities in neuronal precursors in the rostral migratory stream at 6 days post-electroporation (dpe) as well as disrupt radial migration in the olfactory bulb and apical and basal dendritic growth of the olfactory interneurons in the granule cell layer at 13 and 20 dpe. These results suggest that the retarded development of interneurons by the excessive AhR signaling may at least in part explain the dioxin-induced abnormal behavioral alterations previously reported in laboratory animals.

Concepts: Neuron, Cell, Brain, Cerebral cortex, Hippocampus, Granule cell, Transfection, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator


Astrocytes have important roles in the central nervous system (CNS) during health and disease. Through genome-wide analyses we detected a transcriptional response to type I interferons (IFN-Is) in astrocytes during experimental CNS autoimmunity and also in CNS lesions from patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). IFN-I signaling in astrocytes reduces inflammation and experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) disease scores via the ligand-activated transcription factor aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) and the suppressor of cytokine signaling 2 (SOCS2). The anti-inflammatory effects of nasally administered interferon (IFN)-β are partly mediated by AHR. Dietary tryptophan is metabolized by the gut microbiota into AHR agonists that have an effect on astrocytes to limit CNS inflammation. EAE scores were increased following ampicillin treatment during the recovery phase, and CNS inflammation was reduced in antibiotic-treated mice by supplementation with the tryptophan metabolites indole, indoxyl-3-sulfate, indole-3-propionic acid and indole-3-aldehyde, or the bacterial enzyme tryptophanase. In individuals with MS, the circulating levels of AHR agonists were decreased. These findings suggest that IFN-Is produced in the CNS function in combination with metabolites derived from dietary tryptophan by the gut flora to activate AHR signaling in astrocytes and suppress CNS inflammation.

Concepts: Immune system, Central nervous system, Nervous system, Protein, Bacteria, Gut flora, Multiple sclerosis, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator