Unraveling the differential impact of PAHs and dioxin-like compounds on AKR1C3 reveals the EGFR extracellular domain as a critical determinant of the AHR response

Christian Vogeley, Natalie C. Sondermann, Selina Woeste, Afaque Ahmad Imtiyaz Momin, Viola Gilardino, Frederick Hartung, Markus Heinen, Sophia K. Maaß, Melina Mescher, Marius Pollet, Katharina M. Rolfes, Christoph F.A. Vogel, Andrea Rossi, Dieter Lang, Stefan T. Arold, Motoki Nakamura, Thomas Haarmann-Stemmann

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18 Scopus citations


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxin-like compounds (DLCs) and structurally-related environmental pollutants may contribute to the pathogenesis of various diseases and disorders, primarily by activating the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) and modulating downstream cellular responses. Accordingly, AHR is considered an attractive molecular target for preventive and therapeutic measures. However, toxicological risk assessment of AHR-modulating compounds as well as drug development is complicated by the fact that different ligands elicit remarkably different AHR responses. By elucidating the differential effects of PAHs and DLCs on aldo–keto reductase 1C3 expression and associated prostaglandin D2 metabolism, we here provide evidence that the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) substantially shapes AHR ligand-induced responses in human epithelial cells, i.e. primary and immortalized keratinocytes and breast cancer cells. Exposure to benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P) and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) 126 resulted in a rapid c-Src-mediated phosphorylation of EGFR. Moreover, both AHR agonists stimulated protein kinase C activity and enhanced the ectodomain shedding of cell surface-bound EGFR ligands. However, only upon B[a]P treatment, this process resulted in an auto-/paracrine activation of EGFR and a subsequent induction of aldo–keto reductase 1C3 and 11-ketoreduction of prostaglandin D2. Receptor binding and internalization assays, docking analyses and mutational amino acid exchange confirmed that DLCs, but not B[a]P, bind to the EGFR extracellular domain, thereby blocking EGFR activation by growth factors. Finally, nanopore long-read RNA-seq revealed hundreds of genes, whose expression is regulated by B[a]P, but not by PCB126, and sensitive towards pharmacological EGFR inhibition. Our data provide novel mechanistic insights into the ligand response of AHR signaling and identify EGFR as an effector of environmental chemicals.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)106989
JournalEnvironment international
StatePublished - Nov 20 2021


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