Human and rodent aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR): from mediator of dioxin toxicity to physiologic AHR functions and therapeutic options

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Metabolism of aryl hydrocarbons and toxicity of dioxins led to the discovery of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR). Tremendous advances have been made on multiplicity of AHR signaling and identification of endogenous ligands including the tryptophan metabolites FICZ and kynurenine. However, human AHR functions are still poorly understood due to marked species differences as well as cell-type- and cell context-dependent AHR functions. Observations in dioxin-poisoned individuals may provide hints to physiologic AHR functions in humans. Based on these observations three human AHR functions are discussed: (1) Chemical defence and homeostasis of endobiotics. The AHR variant Val381 in modern humans leads to reduced AHR affinity to aryl hydrocarbons in comparison with Neanderthals and primates expressing the Ala381 variant while affinity to indoles remains unimpaired. (2) Homeostasis of stem/progenitor cells. Dioxins dysregulate homeostasis in sebocyte stem cells. (3) Modulation of immunity. In addition to microbial defence, AHR may be involved in a ‘disease tolerance defence pathway'. Further characterization of physiologic AHR functions may lead to therapeutic options.

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