Genetic and epigenetic regulation of AHR gene expression in MCF-7 breast cancer cells: Role of the proximal promoter GC-rich region

Neal A. Englert, Robert J. Turesky, Weiguo Han, Erin E. Bessette, Simon D. Spivack, Michele Caggana, David C. Spink, Barbara C. Spink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a ligand-activated transcription factor, contributes to carcinogenesis through its role in the regulation of cytochrome P450 1 (CYP1)-catalyzed metabolism of carcinogens. Here, we investigated genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that affect AhR expression. Analyses of the human AHR proximal promoter in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells using luciferase assays and electrophoretic mobility shift assays revealed multiple specificity protein (Sp) 1 binding sequences that are transcriptional activators in vitro. The regulation of AhR expression was evaluated in long-term estrogen exposed (LTEE) MCF-7 cells, which showed increased AhR expression, enhanced CYP1 inducibility, and increased capacity to form DNA adducts when exposed to the dietary carcinogen, 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b] pyridine. The increased AhR expression in LTEE cells was found not to result from increased mRNA stability, differential RNA processing, or decreased DNA methylation. Analysis of the AHR proximal promoter region using chromatin immunoprecipitation confirmed that enhanced expression of AhR in LTEE cells involves changes in histone modifications, notably decreased trimethylation of histone 3, lysine 27. Upon further examination of the GC-rich Sp1-binding region, we confirmed that it contains a polymorphic (GGGGC) n repeat. In a population of newborns from New York State, the allele frequency of (GGGGC) n was n = 4 > 5 6, 2. Circular dichroism spectroscopy revealed the ability of sequences of this GC-rich region to form guanine-quadruplex structures in vitro. These studies revealed multiple levels at which AhR expression may be controlled, and offer additional insights into mechanisms regulating AhR expression that can ultimately impact carcinogenesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)722-735
Number of pages14
JournalBiochemical Pharmacology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012


  • (GGGGC) repeat polymorphism
  • 2-Amino-1-methyl-6- phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine
  • Aryl hydrocarbon receptor
  • Epigenetic
  • Guanine-quadruplex
  • Long-term estrogen exposure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Pharmacology


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