Activation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor by carcinogenic aromatic amines and modulatory effects of their N-acetylated metabolites

Arch Toxicol. 2015 Dec;89(12):2403-12. doi: 10.1007/s00204-014-1367-7. Epub 2014 Sep 17.


Aromatic amines (AAs) are an important class of chemicals which account for 12 % of known carcinogens. The biological effects of AAs depend mainly on their biotransformation into reactive metabolites or into N-acetylated metabolites which are generally considered as less toxic. Although the activation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) pathway by certain carcinogenic AAs has been reported, the effects of their N-acetylated metabolites on the AhR have not been addressed. Here, we investigated whether carcinogenic AAs and their N-acetylated metabolites may activate/modulate the AhR pathway in the absence and/or the presence of a bona fide AhR ligand (benzo[a]pyrene/B(a)P]. In agreement with previous studies, we found that certain AAs activated the AhR in human liver and lung cells as assessed by an increase in cytochrome P450 1A1 (CYP1A1) expression and activity. Altogether, we report for the first time that these properties can be modulated by the N-acetylation status of the AA. Whereas 2-naphthylamine significantly activated the AhR and induced CYP1A1 expression, its N-acetylated metabolite was less efficient. In contrast, the N-acetylated metabolite of 2-aminofluorene was able to significantly activate AhR, whereas the parent AA, 2-aminofluorene, did not. In the presence of B(a)P, activation of AhR or antagonist effects were observed depending on the AA or its N-acetylated metabolite. Activation and/or modulation of the AhR pathway by AAs and their N-acetylated metabolites may represent a novel mechanism contributing to the toxicological effects of AAs. More broadly, our data suggest biological interactions between AAs and other classes of xenobiotics through the AhR pathway.

Keywords: Acetylation; Aromatic amines; Aryl hydrocarbon receptor; Benzo[a]pyrene; Metabolism; Mixture.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • 2-Naphthylamine / administration & dosage
  • 2-Naphthylamine / metabolism
  • 2-Naphthylamine / toxicity
  • Acetylation
  • Aminobiphenyl Compounds / administration & dosage
  • Aminobiphenyl Compounds / metabolism
  • Aminobiphenyl Compounds / toxicity
  • Benzo(a)pyrene / administration & dosage
  • Benzo(a)pyrene / pharmacology
  • Carcinogens / metabolism
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Cell Line
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1 / genetics*
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1 / metabolism
  • Fluorenes / administration & dosage
  • Fluorenes / metabolism
  • Fluorenes / toxicity
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic / drug effects*
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Humans
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Lung / drug effects
  • Lung / metabolism
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / metabolism


  • Aminobiphenyl Compounds
  • Carcinogens
  • Fluorenes
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • 4-biphenylamine
  • Benzo(a)pyrene
  • 2-aminofluorene
  • 2-Naphthylamine
  • CYP1A1 protein, human
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1