The role of aryl hydrocarbon receptor in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular diseases

Drug Metab Rev. 2006;38(3):411-50. doi: 10.1080/03602530600632063.


Numerous experimental and epidemiological studies have demonstrated that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are major constituents of cigarette tobacco tar, are strongly involved in the pathogenesis of the cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). Knowing that PAH-induced toxicities are mediated by the activation of a cytosolic receptor, aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), which regulates the expression of a group of xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes (XMEs) such as CYP1A1, CYP1A2, CYP1B1, NQO1, and GSTA1, suggests a direct link between AhR-regulated XMEs and CVDs. Therefore, identifying the localization and expression of the AhR and its regulated XMEs in the cardiovascular system (CVS) is of major importance in understanding their physiological and pathological roles. Generally, it was believed that the levels of AhR-regulated XMEs are lower in the CVS than in the liver; however, it has been shown that similar or even higher levels of expression are demonstrated in the CVS in a tissue- and species-specific manner. Moreover, most, if not all, AhR-regulated XMEs are differentially expressed in most of the CVS, particularly in the endothelium cells, aorta, coronary arteries, and ventricles. Although the exact mechanisms of PAH-mediated cardiotoxicity are not fully understood, several mechanisms are proposed. Generally, induction of CYP1A1, CYP1A2, and CYP1B1 is considered cardiotoxic through generating reactive oxygen species (ROS), DNA adducts, and endogenous arachidonic acid metabolites. However the cardioprotective properties of NQO1 and GSTA1 are mainly attributed to the antioxidant effect by decreasing ROS and increasing the levels of endogenous antioxidants. This review provides a clear understanding of the role of AhR and its regulated XMEs in the pathogenesis of CVDs, in which imbalance in the expression of cardioprotective and cardiotoxic XMEs is the main determinant of PAH-mediated cardiotoxicity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aryl Hydrocarbon Hydroxylases / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone) / metabolism
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / metabolism
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / physiology*


  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • Aryl Hydrocarbon Hydroxylases
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone)