The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a ligand-dependent transcription factor, mediates toxicity of several classes of xenobiotics and also has important physiological roles in differentiation, reproduction, and immunity, although the endogenous ligand(s) mediating these functions is/are as yet unidentified. One candidate endogenous ligand, 2-(1'H-indolo-3'-carbonyl)-thiazole-4-carboxylic acid methyl ester (ITE), is a potent AhR agonist in vitro, activates the murine AhR in vivo, but does not induce toxicity. We hypothesized that ITE and the toxic ligand, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), may modify transcription of different sets of genes to account for their different toxicity. To test this hypothesis, primary mouse lung fibroblasts were exposed to 0.5muM ITE, 0.2nM TCDD, or vehicle for 4 h, and total gene expression was evaluated using microarrays. After this short-term and low-dose treatment, several hundred genes were changed significantly, and the response to ITE and TCDD was remarkably similar, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Induced gene sets included the expected battery of AhR-dependent xenobiotic-metabolizing enzymes, as well as several sets that reflect the inflammatory role of lung fibroblasts. Real time quantitative RT-qPCR assay of several selected genes confirmed these microarray data and further suggested that there may be kinetic differences in expression between ligands. These data suggest that ITE and TCDD elicit an analogous change in AhR conformation such that the initial transcription response is the same. Furthermore, if the difference in toxicity between TCDD and ITE is mediated by differences in gene expression, then it is likely that secondary changes enabled by the persistent TCDD, but not by the shorter lived ITE, are responsible.