Dioxin: a review of its environmental effects and its aryl hydrocarbon receptor biology

J Comp Physiol B. 2005 May;175(4):221-30. doi: 10.1007/s00360-005-0483-3. Epub 2005 Apr 8.


A highly persistent trace environmental contaminant and one of the most potent toxicants known is dioxin (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin or TCDD). TCDD induces a broad spectrum of biological responses, including induction of cytochrome P-450 1A1 (CYP1A1), disruption of normal hormone signaling pathways, reproductive and developmental defects, immunotoxicity, liver damage, wasting syndrome, and cancer. Its classification was upgraded from "possible human carcinogen" (group 2B) to "human carcinogen" (group 1) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 1997. Exposure to TCDD may also cause changes in sex ratio, and tumor promotion in other animals. Because of the growing public and scientific concern, toxicological studies have been initiated to analyze the short- and long-term effects of dioxin. TCDD brings about a wide variety of toxic and biochemical effects via aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR)-mediated signaling pathways. Essential steps in this adaptive mechanism include AhR binding of ligand in the cytoplasm of cells associated with two molecules of chaperone heatshock protein (Hsp90) and AhR interactive protein, translocation of the receptor to the nucleus, dimerization with the Ah receptor nuclear translocator, and binding of this heterodimeric transcription factor (present in CYP1A) to dioxin-responsive elements upstream of promoters that regulate the expression of genes involved in xenobiotic metabolism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / pharmacology*
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / toxicity
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1 / genetics*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance / drug effects
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / chemically induced
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / pharmacology*
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / toxicity
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / agonists*
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / genetics
  • Reproduction / drug effects


  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1