Metabolic activation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons to carcinogens by cytochromes P450 1A1 and 1B1

Cancer Sci. 2004 Jan;95(1):1-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1349-7006.2004.tb03162.x.


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are ubiquitously distributed environmental chemicals. PAHs acquire carcinogenicity only after they have been activated by xenobiotic-metabolizing enzymes to highly reactive metabolites capable of attacking cellular DNA. Cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes are central to the metabolic activation of these PAHs to epoxide intermediates, which are converted with the aid of epoxide hydrolase to the ultimate carcinogens, diol-epoxides. Historically, CYP1A1 was believed to be the only enzyme that catalyzes activation of these procarcinogenic PAHs. However, recent studies have established that CYP1B1, a newly identified member of the CYP1 family, plays a very important role in the metabolic activation of PAHs. In CYP1B1 gene-knockout mice treated with 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene and dibenzo[a,l]pyrene, decreased rates of tumor formation were observed, when compared to wild-type mice. Significantly, gene expression of CYP1A1 and 1B1 is induced by PAHs and polyhalogenated hydrocarbons such as 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin through the arylhydrocarbon receptor. Differences in the susceptibility of individuals to the adverse action of PAHs may, in part, be due to differences in the levels of expression of CYP1A1 and 1B1 and to genetic variations in the CYP1A1 and 1B1 genes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aryl Hydrocarbon Hydroxylases / genetics
  • Aryl Hydrocarbon Hydroxylases / metabolism*
  • Biotransformation
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / metabolism*
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1 / genetics
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1 / metabolism*
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1B1
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / metabolism*


  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Aryl Hydrocarbon Hydroxylases
  • CYP1B1 protein, human
  • Cyp1b1 protein, mouse
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1B1