By: Johanna Bengtsson

Title: The impact of cytochrome P4501-inhibitors on aryl hydrocarbon receptor signaling



The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) best known as a ligand-activated transcription factor that mediates toxic responses
to xenobiotics such as dioxins, is also activated by certain endogenous compounds. Activation of the AHR up-regulates
transcription of a large number of genes, including those encoding members of the cytochrome P450 1 family of enzymes
(CYP1s). Although the AHR has been shown to be involved in several normal processes, its physiological role remains
elusive. The endogenous ligand 6-formylindolo[3,2-b]carbazole (FICZ), formed from tryptophan, is present in cell culture
media and biological specimens. FICZ is an excellent substrate for CYP1 enzymes and together FICZ/AHR/CYP1A1
interactions constitute an auto regulatory feedback loop that controls AHR signaling. A vast number of compounds that
inhibit CYP1 enzymes have been reported to be AHR activators, even though they have little or no affinity for the receptor. We hypothesized, that their agonistic effects are dependent on the presence of background levels of FICZ. To test this, AHR signaling in different cell systems exposed to FICZ and/or inhibitors was assessed by measuring EROD activity and CYP1A1 transcription. In addition to a commercial culture medium, a medium free of background levels of FICZ was used. Activation of AHR by of a diverse set of CYP1A1 inhibitors did require FICZ in the culture medium. Furthermore, the compounds tested both prolonged and potentiated FICZ-induced receptor signaling. On the basis of these observations we propose that a compound may activate AHR signaling indirectly by inhibiting CYP1A1 and thereby attenuating the metabolism of FICZ. This mechanism was confirmed for certain polyphenols and pharmaceuticals. Surprisingly, the activating capacity and potentiating effect of two pharmaceuticals on AHR signaling could not be explained by the mechanism proposed, and we speculated that in these cases the agonistic effect might involve interactions of the cellular antioxidant response with the basic transcription machinery. Together, our observations provide a mechanistic explanation as to how compounds that inhibit CYP1A1 can activate AHR signaling. They also indicate that the general perception of the binding pocket of AHR as promiscuous, is probably wrong. The fact that indirect activation of AHR may cause sustained signaling requires further studies in vivo not least, in order to prevent toxicity.