The aryl hydrocarbon receptor system

Drug Metabol Drug Interact. 2012 Jan 31;27(1):3-8. doi: 10.1515/dmdi-2011-0035.


The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) recognizes a large number of xenobiotics, such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dioxins, and it activates several metabolic and detoxification pathways. Recent evidence suggests that this receptor also has important endogenous functions subsequent to activation by natural dietary compounds and/or endogenous metabolites. This receptor, thus, has physiological functions that extend beyond specific instances of detoxification. Understanding the roles played by this receptor might be enhanced by a systems biology approach. Indeed, the AhR "ligandome" is very complex and the different classes of ligands involved could induce widely diverse effects. The protein "interactome" of the AhR comprises several tens of proteins and it is altered by the binding of ligands to the receptor. Furthermore, large-scale studies have shown cell and tissue-specific patterns of regulated gene expression which may depend upon the type of ligand, although these aspects need further substantiation. Finally, the AhR biological effects are extensive and include detoxification, cellular proliferation and migration, immune regulation and neuronal effects. A holistic approach should provide a better understanding of the biology of this receptor in addition to providing new avenues for the identification of specific toxicity mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Movement
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / physiology*


  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon