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Biochem Pharmacol. 2009 Feb 15;77(4):746-60. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2008.11.021. Epub 2008 Nov 27.

AHR-mediated immunomodulation: the role of altered gene transcription.

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Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology and Environmental Health Sciences Center, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.


The immune system is a sensitive target for aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR)-mediated transcriptional regulation. Most of the cells that participate in immune responses express AHR protein, and many genes involved in their responses contain multiple DRE sequences in their promoters. However, the potential involvement of many of these candidate genes in AHR-mediated immunomodulation has never been investigated. Many obstacles to understanding the transcriptional effects of AHR activation exist, owing to the complexities of pathogen-driven inflammatory and adaptive immune responses, and to the fact that activation of AHR often influences the expression of genes that are already being regulated by other transcriptional events in responding cells. Studies with TCDD as the most potent, non-metabolized AHR ligand indicate that AHR activation alters many inflammatory signals that shape the adaptive immune response, contributing to altered differentiation of antigen-specific CD4(+) T helper (TH) cells and altered adaptive immune responses. With TCDD, most adaptive immune responses are highly suppressed, which has been recently linked to the AHR-dependent induction of CD4(+)CD25(+) regulatory T cells. However activation of AHR by certain non-TCDD ligands may result in other immune outcomes, as a result of metabolism of the ligand to active metabolites or to unknown ligand-specific effects on AHR-mediated gene transcription. Based on studies using AHR(-/-) mice, evidence for a role of endogenous AHR ligands in regulation of the immune response is growing, with bilirubin and lipoxinA4 representing two promising candidates.

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