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Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2010 Nov 15;249(1):55-64. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2010.08.014. Epub 2010 Aug 20.

Harman induces CYP1A1 enzyme through an aryl hydrocarbon receptor mechanism.

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Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton AB, Canada T6G 2N8.


Harman is a common compound in several foods, plants and beverages. Numerous studies have demonstrated its mutagenic, co-mutagenic and carcinogenic effects; however, the exact mechanism has not been fully identified. Aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) is a transcription factor regulating the expression of the carcinogen-activating enzyme; cytochrome P450 1A1 (CYP1A1). In the present study, we examined the ability of harman to induce AhR-mediated signal transduction in human and rat hepatoma cells; HepG2 and H4IIE cells. Our results showed that harman significantly induced CYP1A1 mRNA in a time- and concentration-dependent manner. Similarly, harman significantly induced CYP1A1 at protein and activity levels in a concentration-dependent manner. Moreover, the AhR antagonist, resveratrol, inhibited the increase in CYP1A1 activity by harman. The RNA polymerase inhibitor, actinomycin D, completely abolished the CYP1A1 mRNA induction by harman, indicating a transcriptional activation. The role of AhR in CYP1A1 induction by harman was confirmed by using siRNA specific for human AhR. The ability of harman to induce CYP1A1 was strongly correlated with its ability to stimulate AhR-dependent luciferase activity and electrophoretic mobility shift assay. At post-transcriptional and post-translational levels, harman did not affect the stability of CYP1A1 at the mRNA and the protein levels, excluding other mechanisms participating in the obtained effects. We concluded that harman can directly induce CYP1A1 gene expression in an AhR-dependent manner and may represent a novel mechanism by which harman promotes mutagenicity, co-mutagenicity and carcinogenicity.

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