tert-Butylhydroquinone is a novel aryl hydrocarbon receptor ligand

Drug Metab Dispos. 2005 Mar;33(3):365-72. doi: 10.1124/dmd.104.002253. Epub 2004 Dec 17.


In contrast to the beneficial effects of tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) as a food antioxidant, a number of studies have shown that chronic exposure to tBHQ may induce carcinogenicity. Therefore, we examined the ability of tBHQ to induce the cytochrome P450 1a1 (Cyp1a1), an enzyme known to play an important role in the chemical activation of xenobiotics to carcinogenic derivatives. A significant concentration-dependent increase in Cyp1a1 mRNA, protein, and activity occurred after treatment of murine hepatoma Hepa 1c1c7 cells with tBHQ. The increase in mRNA was apparent 3 h after treatment. The RNA polymerase inhibitor, actinomycin D, completely blocked the Cyp1a1 induction by tBHQ, indicating a requirement of de novo RNA synthesis through transcriptional activation. The protein synthesis inhibitor cycloheximide superinduced the tBHQ-mediated induction of Cyp1a1 mRNA and completely prevented the increase in Cyp1a1 activity, indicating that the induction of enzyme activity by tBHQ is dependent on de novo protein synthesis. In addition, the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) antagonist, resveratrol, inhibited the increase in Cyp1a1 activity by tBHQ. Gel electrophoretic mobility shift assays showed that tBHQ causes activation or transformation of the AHR in nuclear extracts, indicating that AHR-dependent mechanisms contributed to the Cyp1a1 induction. Similar to murine Hepa 1c1c7 cells, tBHQ caused a concentration-dependent increase in CYP1A1 at the mRNA and activity levels in human HepG2 cells. This is the first demonstration that the phenolic antioxidant, tBHQ, can directly induce Cyp1a1 gene expression in an AHR-dependent manner and may represent a novel mechanism by which tBHQ promotes carcinogenicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1 / biosynthesis*
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1 / genetics
  • Enzyme Induction
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic / drug effects*
  • Hydroquinones / pharmacology*
  • Ligands
  • Mice
  • RNA, Messenger / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / metabolism*


  • Antioxidants
  • Hydroquinones
  • Ligands
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • 2-tert-butylhydroquinone
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1