The aryl hydrocarbon receptor: an environmental sensor integrating immune responses in health and disease

Nat Rev Immunol. 2019 Mar;19(3):184-197. doi: 10.1038/s41577-019-0125-8.


The environment, diet, microbiota and body's metabolism shape complex biological processes in health and disease. However, our understanding of the molecular pathways involved in these processes is still limited. The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) is a ligand-activated transcription factor that integrates environmental, dietary, microbial and metabolic cues to control complex transcriptional programmes in a ligand-specific, cell-type-specific and context-specific manner. In this Review, we summarize our current knowledge of AHR and the transcriptional programmes it controls in the immune system. Finally, we discuss the role of AHR in autoimmune and neoplastic diseases of the central nervous system, with a special focus on the gut immune system, the gut-brain axis and the therapeutic potential of targeting AHR in neurological disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity / genetics
  • Adaptive Immunity / immunology*
  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases of the Nervous System / genetics
  • Autoimmune Diseases of the Nervous System / immunology*
  • Brain / immunology*
  • Diet
  • Environment
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / immunology
  • Gene Expression Regulation / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Intestines / immunology*
  • Microbiota / immunology
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / immunology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon