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J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2011 Oct;127(1-2):96-101. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2010.12.005. Epub 2010 Dec 17.

Molecular targets that link dioxin exposure to toxicity phenotypes.

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  • 1Laboratory of Environmental Health Sciences, Center for Disease Biology and Integrative Medicine, Graduate School of Medicine, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan.


Many toxicology studies have elucidated health effects associated with exposure to various chemicals, but few have identified the molecular targets that cause specific endpoints of toxicity. Our understanding of the toxicity of dioxins, a group of chemicals capable of causing toxicity at environmentally relevant levels of exposure, is no exception. Dioxins are unique compared to most chemicals that we are exposed to in the environment because they activate a high affinity receptor, aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), that was identified more than three decades ago. In recent years, several lines of experimental evidence have provided clues for opening the "black box" that contains the molecular mechanisms of dioxin action. These clues have emerged by toxicologists beginning to identify the molecular targets that link AhR signaling to tissue-specific toxicity phenotypes. Endpoints of dioxin toxicity for which downstream molecular targets have begun to be elucidated are observed in developmental or tissue regeneration processes, and include impaired prostate development and hydronephrosis in mouse fetuses and pups, reduced midbrain blood flow and jaw malformation in zebrafish embryos, and impaired fin regeneration in larval and adult zebrafish. Significant progress in identifying molecular targets for dioxin-induced hepatotoxicity in adult mice also has occurred. Misregulation of AhR downstream pathways, such as conversion of arachidonic acid to prostanoids via cyclooxygenase-2, and altered Wnt/β-catenin signaling downregulating Sox9, and signaling by receptors for inflammatory cytokines have been implicated in tissue-specific endpoints of dioxin toxicity. These findings may not only begin to clarify the molecular targets of dioxin action but shed light on new molecular events associated with development and disease.

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