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Biochem Pharmacol. 2009 Feb 15;77(4):485-97. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2008.09.016. Epub 2008 Sep 20.

Regulation of constitutive and inducible AHR signaling: complex interactions involving the AHR repressor.

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  • 1Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, USA.


The AHR is well known for regulating responses to an array of environmental chemicals. A growing body of evidence supports the hypothesis that the AHR also plays perhaps an even more important role in modulating critical aspects of cell function including cell growth, death, and migration. As these and other important AHR activities continue to be elucidated, it becomes apparent that attention now must be directed towards the mechanisms through which the AHR itself is regulated. Here, we review what is known of and what biological outcomes have been attributed to the AHR repressor (AHRR), an evolutionarily conserved bHLH-PAS protein that inhibits both xenobiotic-induced and constitutively active AHR transcriptional activity in multiple species. We discuss the structure and evolution of the AHRR and the dominant paradigm of a xenobiotic-inducible negative feedback loop comprised of AHR-mediated transcriptional up-regulation of AHRR and the subsequent AHRR-mediated suppression of AHR activity. We highlight the role of the AHRR in limiting AHR activity in the absence of xenobiotic AHR ligands and the important contribution of constitutively repressive AHRR to cancer biology. In this context, we also suggest a new hypothesis proposing that, under some circumstances, constitutively active AHR may repress AHRR transcription, resulting in unbridled AHR activity. We also review the predominant hypotheses on the molecular mechanisms through which AHRR inhibits AHR as well as novel mechanisms through which the AHRR may exert AHR-independent effects. Collectively, this discussion emphasizes the importance of this understudied bHLH-PAS protein in tissue development, normal cell biology, xenobiotic responsiveness, and AHR-regulated malignancy.

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