Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of immune-mediated diseases. Although numerous genetic factors contributing to autoimmunity have been identified in recent years, our knowledge on environmental factors contributing to the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases and the mechanisms involved is still limited. In this context, the diet, microbiome, geographical location, as well as environmental pollutants have been shown to modulate autoimmune disease development. These environmental factors interact with cellular components of the immune system in distinct and defined ways and can influence immune responses at the transcriptional and protein level. Moreover, endogenous metabolites generated from basic cellular processes such as glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation also contribute to the shaping of the immune response. In this minireview, we highlight recent progress in our understanding of the modulation of the immune response by the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a ligand-activated transcription factor whose activity is regulated by small molecules provided by diet, commensal flora, environmental pollutants, and metabolism. We focus on the role of AhR in integrating signals from the diet and the intestinal flora to modulate ongoing inflammation in the central nervous system, and we also discuss the potential therapeutic value of AhR agonists for multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases.
Keywords: aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR); astrocyte; immunology; lymphocyte; neuroimmunology.
© 2017 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.