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Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Feb;50(2):353-62. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2011.10.052. Epub 2011 Oct 21.

Harmaline and harmalol inhibit the carcinogen-activating enzyme CYP1A1 via transcriptional and posttranslational mechanisms.

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


Dioxins are known to cause several human cancers through activation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). Harmaline and harmalol are dihydro-β-carboline compounds present in several medicinal plants such as Peganum harmala. We have previously demonstrated the ability of P. harmala extract to inhibit TCDD-mediated induction of Cyp1a1 in murine hepatoma Hepa 1c1c7 cells. Therefore, the aim of this study is to examine the effect of harmaline and its main metabolite, harmalol, on dioxin-mediated induction of CYP1A1 in human hepatoma HepG2 cells. Our results showed that harmaline and harmalol at concentrations of (0.5-12.5μM) significantly inhibited the dioxin-induced CYP1A1 at mRNA, protein and activity levels in a concentration-dependent manner. The role of AhR was determined by the inhibition of the TCDD-mediated induction of AhR-dependent luciferase activity and the AhR/ARNT/XRE formation by both harmaline and harmalol. In addition, harmaline significantly displaced [(3)H]TCDD in the competitive ligand binding assay. At posttranslational level, both harmaline and harmalol decreased the protein stability of CYP1A1, suggesting that posttranslational modifications are involved. Moreover, the posttranslational modifications of harmaline and harmalol involve ubiquitin-proteasomal pathway and direct inhibitory effects of both compounds on CYP1A1 enzyme. These data suggest that harmaline and harmalol are promising agents for preventing dioxin-mediated effects.

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