Leflunomide induces NAD(P)H quinone dehydrogenase 1 enzyme via the aryl hydrocarbon receptor in neonatal mice

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2017 Mar 25;485(1):195-200. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2017.02.051. Epub 2017 Feb 10.


Aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) has been increasingly recognized to play a crucial role in normal physiological homeostasis. Additionally, disrupted AhR signaling leads to several pathological states in the lung and liver. AhR activation transcriptionally induces detoxifying enzymes such as cytochrome P450 (CYP) 1A and NAD(P)H quinone dehydrogenase 1 (NQO1). The toxicity profiles of the classical AhR ligands such as 3-methylcholanthrene and dioxins limit their use as a therapeutic agent in humans. Hence, there is a need to identify nontoxic AhR ligands to develop AhR as a clinically relevant druggable target. Recently, we demonstrated that leflunomide, a FDA approved drug, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis in humans, induces CYP1A enzymes in adult mice via the AhR. However, the mechanisms by which this drug induces NQO1 in vivo are unknown. Therefore, we tested the hypothesis that leflunomide will induce pulmonary and hepatic NQO1 enzyme in neonatal mice via AhR-dependent mechanism(s). Leflunomide elicited significant induction of pulmonary CYP1A1 and NQO1 expression in neonatal mice. Interestingly, the dose at which leflunomide increased NQO1 was significantly higher than that required to induce CYP1A1 enzyme. Likewise, it also enhanced hepatic CYP1A1, 1A2 and NQO1 expression in WT mice. In contrast, leflunomide failed to induce these enzymes in AhR-null mice. Our results indicate that leflunomide induces pulmonary and hepatic CYP1A and NQO1 enzymes via the AhR in neonatal mice. These findings have important implications to prevent and/or treat disorders such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia in human infants where AhR may play a crucial role in the disease pathogenesis.

Keywords: Aryl hydrocarbon receptor; Cytochrome P450 1A enzymes; Leflunomide; NAD(P)H quinone dehydrogenase 1; Neonates.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1 / genetics*
  • Gene Deletion
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology*
  • Isoxazoles / pharmacology*
  • Leflunomide
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone) / genetics*
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / genetics
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / metabolism*
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects*


  • Ahr protein, mouse
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Isoxazoles
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone)
  • Nqo1 protein, mouse
  • Leflunomide