The ubiquitous aldehyde reductase (AKR1A1) oxidizes proximate carcinogen trans-dihydrodiols to o-quinones: potential role in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon activation

Biochemistry. 2001 Sep 11;40(36):10901-10. doi: 10.1021/bi010872t.


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are metabolized to trans-dihydrodiol proximate carcinogens by human epoxide hydrolase (EH) and CYP1A1. Human dihydrodiol dehydrogenase isoforms (AKR1C1-AKR1C4), members of the aldo-keto reductase (AKR) superfamily, activate trans-dihydrodiols by converting them to reactive and redox-active o-quinones. We now show that the constitutively and widely expressed human AKR, aldehyde reductase (AKR1A1), will oxidize potent proximate carcinogen trans-dihydrodiols to their corresponding o-quinones. cDNA encoding AKR1A1 was isolated from HepG2 cells, overexpressed in Escherichia coli, purified to homogeneity, and characterized. AKR1A1 oxidized the potent proximate carcinogen (+/-)-trans-7,8-dihydroxy-7,8-dihydrobenzo[a]pyrene with a higher utilization ratio (V(max)/K(m)) than any other human AKR. AKR1A1 also displayed a high V(max)/K(m) for the oxidation of 5-methylchrysene-7,8-diol, benz[a]anthracene-3,4-diol, 7-methylbenz[a]anthracene-3,4-diol, and 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene-3,4-diol. AKR1A1 displayed rigid regioselectivity by preferentially oxidizing non-K-region trans-dihydrodiols. The enzyme was stereoselective and oxidized 50% of each racemic PAH trans-dihydrodiol tested. The absolute stereochemistries of the reactions were assigned by circular dichroism spectrometry. AKR1A1 preferentially oxidized the metabolically relevant (-)-benzo[a]pyrene-7(R),8(R)-dihydrodiol. AKR1A1 also preferred (-)-benz[a]anthracene-3(R),4(R)-dihydrodiol, (+)-7-methylbenz[a]anthracene-3(S),4(S)-dihydrodiol, and (-)-7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene-3(R),4(R)-dihydrodiol. The product of the AKR1A1-catalyzed oxidation of (+/-)-trans-7,8-dihydroxy-7,8-dihydrobenzo[a]pyrene was trapped with 2-mercaptoethanol and characterized as a thioether conjugate of benzo[a]pyrene-7,8-dione by LC/MS. Multiple human tissue expression array analysis showed coexpression of AKR1A1, CYP1A1, and EH, indicating that trans-dihydrodiol substrates are formed in the same tissues in which AKR1A1 is expressed. The ability of this general metabolic enzyme to divert trans-dihydrodiols to o-quinones suggests that this pathway of PAH activation may be widespread in human tissues.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aldehyde Reductase / metabolism*
  • Biotransformation
  • Carcinogens / pharmacokinetics*
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1 / metabolism
  • Epoxide Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • Models, Chemical
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / pharmacokinetics
  • Quinones / pharmacokinetics*
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Carcinogens
  • Isoenzymes
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Quinones
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Aldehyde Reductase
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1
  • Epoxide Hydrolases