The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) was initially identified as the receptor that binds and mediates the toxic effects induced by 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and structurally related halogenated aromatics. Other toxic compounds including some polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons act through the AhR; however, during the last 25 years, it has become apparent that the AhR plays an essential role in maintaining cellular homeostasis. Moreover, the scope of ligands that bind the AhR includes endogenous compounds such as multiple tryptophan metabolites, other endogenous biochemicals, pharmaceuticals and health-promoting phytochemicals including flavonoids, indole-3-carbinol and its metabolites. It has also been shown that like other receptors, the AhR is a drug target for multiple diseases including cancer, where both AhR agonists and antagonists effectively block many of the critical hallmarks of cancer in multiple tumor types. This review describes the anti-cancer activities of AhR ligands and demonstrates that it is time to separate the AhR from TCDD and exploit the potential of the AhR as a novel target for cancer chemotherapy.
Keywords: Ah receptor; Cancer; Drug target; Ligands.