The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) is a receptor/transcription factor which regulates cytochrome P450 (CYP) gene transcription and which is activated by environmental carcinogens, some of which are associated with increased breast cancer risk. Here, we show that the AhR is over-expressed and constitutively active in human and rodent mammary tumors, suggesting its ongoing contribution to tumorigenesis regardless of tumor etiology. AhR regulation of CYP1A1 and CYP1B1 was studied to determine if constitutively active AhR effects the same transcriptional outcomes as environmental chemical-activated AhR. Elevated AhR and CYP1B1 but not CYP1A1 before tumor formation in a rat model of mammary tumorigenesis suggested differential CYP1B1 regulation by a constitutively active AhR. This hypothesis was tested with human mammary gland cell lines which hyper-express AhR and CYP1B1 but which express little or no CYP1A1. CYP1B1 expression was diminished by repression of AhR activity or by AhR knockdown, demonstrating AhR control of basal CYP1B1 levels. ChIP assays demonstrated constitutive AhR binding to both CYP1A1 and CYP1B1 promoters, demonstrating that differential CYP1A1 and CYP1B1 regulation by constitutively active AhR does not result from different amounts of promoter-bound AhR. While increasing AhR binding to both CYP1A1 and CYP1B1, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin induced CYP1A1 mRNA in both a malignant and non-malignant line but increased only CYP1B1 mRNA in the malignant line, again demonstrating that the level of promoter binding does not necessarily correlate with gene mRNA levels. These studies suggest that constitutively active AhR mediates different molecular outcomes than environmental chemical-activated AhR, and further implicate the AhR in mammary tumorigenesis.
Copyright 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.