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Int J Obes (Lond). 2015 Aug;39(8):1300-1309. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2015.63. Epub 2015 Apr 24.

Aryl hydrocarbon receptor deficiency protects mice from diet-induced adiposity and metabolic disorders through increased energy expenditure.

Author information

Department of Pharmacology, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Springfield, Illinois, USA.
Department of Anesthesiology, Institute of Translation Medicine, the First People's Hospital of Chenzhou, Chenzhou, China.
Department of Internal Medicine, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Springfield, Illinois, USA.
Department of Metabolism and Endocrinology, the First Affiliated Hospital of University of South China, Hengyang, China.
Division of Stem Cell Regulation and Application, College of Medicine, Hunan University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Changsha, China.
Contributed equally



Epidemics of obesity and diabetes are escalating. High-calorie/high-fat food is a major cause for these global health issues, but molecular mechanisms underlying high-fat, diet-induced obesity are still not well understood. The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a transcription factor that acts as a xenobiotic sensor, mediates environmental toxicant-induced obesity, insulin resistance and development of diabetes. AhR also influences lipid metabolism and diet-induced obesity. The effects of AhR deficiency on diet-induced obesity, hepatic steatosis and insulin resistance were examined.


Male wild-type (WT), AhR null (AhR(-/-)) and AhR heterozygote (AhR(+/-)) mice were fed a normal chow diet (NCD, 10% kcal from fat) or a high-fat diet (HFD, 60% kcal from fat) for up to 14 weeks. Adiposity, adipose and liver morphology, insulin signaling, metabolic parameters and gene profiles were assessed.


AhR deficiency protected against HFD-induced obesity, hepatic steatosis, insulin resistance and inflammation. Moreover, AhR deficiency preserved insulin signaling in major metabolic tissues. These protective effects result from a higher energy expenditure in AhR-deficient mice compared with WT. Levels of transcript for both the thermogenic gene, uncoupling protein 1 (Ucp1), in brown adipose tissue and mitochondrial β-oxidation genes in muscle were significantly higher in AhR(-/-) and AhR(+/-) mice compared with WT.


This work documents a physiologically relevant function for AhR in regulation of body weight, hepatic fat deposition, insulin sensitivity and energy expenditure under HFD exposure, suggesting that AhR signaling may be developed as a potential therapeutic target for treatment of obesity and metabolic disorders.

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