Transactivation activity of human, zebrafish, and rainbow trout aryl hydrocarbon receptors expressed in COS-7 cells: greater insight into species differences in toxic potency of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin, dibenzofuran, and biphenyl congeners

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 1999 Aug 15;159(1):41-51. doi: 10.1006/taap.1999.8719.


Transactivation assays were used to compare the potency and efficacy of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin (PCDD), dibenzofuran (PCDF), and biphenyl (PCB) congeners in activating aryl hydrocarbon receptors (AhRs) from rainbow trout (rtAhR2alpha and rtAhR2beta), zebrafish (zfAhR2), and human (huAhR), respectively. All AhRs were expressed with their species-specific AhR nuclear translocator (ARNT) in COS-7 cells. Transactivation activity was determined for two PCDD, two PCDF, and seven PCB congeners with each of the four AhR/ARNT pairs using prt1Aluc, a luciferase reporter driven by two dioxin-responsive enhancer elements (DREs) from the rainbow trout cyp1A gene. Maximal-fold induction, EC50, and relative potency values were calculated for congeners that exhibited dose-related activity in the assay. Of the four AhR/ARNT pairs tested with PCDD, PCDF, and non-ortho PCB congeners, three exhibited high activity (rainbow trout AhR2alpha, zebrafish AhR2, and human AhR), while rainbow trout AhR2beta had very weak or no activity. Comparisons between these AhRs showed that while mono-ortho PCBs were able to activate the human AhR, they were generally ineffective in activating rainbow trout and zebrafish AhR2s. This supports the hypothesis that structural differences between mammalian and fish AhRs may account for differences in relative potencies of the mono-ortho PCBs between mammals and fish. Another important finding was a significant difference in transactivation activity between the two rainbow trout AhR2 isoforms despite the fact that they are 95% identical at the amino acid level. For all PCDD, PCDF, and PCB agonists tested, rainbow trout AhR2alpha was significantly more active than AhR2beta. However, rainbow trout AhR2beta is active as a 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD)-activated transcription factor, with enhancer elements from the mouse cyp1A gene. This suggests that AhR2beta may have evolved to serve a different physiological function than AhR2alpha in salmonid fish species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzofurans / toxicity
  • COS Cells / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Fishes
  • Humans
  • Oncorhynchus mykiss
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / analogs & derivatives
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / toxicity
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / drug effects*
  • Soil Pollutants / toxicity
  • Species Specificity
  • Transcriptional Activation / genetics*
  • Transcriptional Activation / physiology
  • Zebrafish


  • Benzofurans
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • Soil Pollutants
  • dibenzofuran
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls