DiNatale BC, Schroeder JC, Perdew GH
There is increasing evidence that the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) plays a role in tumor progression through numerous mechanisms. We have previously shown that, in certain cancer cell lines that are typically nonresponsive to cytokine-mediated IL6 induction, activation of the AHR with the agonist 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin derepresses the IL6 promoter and allows for synergistic induction following IL1β treatment. The mechanism by which this occurs involves liganded AHR binding upstream from the transcription start site and dismissing HDAC-containing corepressor complexes, giving rise to a promoter structure that is more amenable to NF-κB activation. This fact, combined with observations of multiple endogenously produced chemicals activating the AHR, led us to study its role in basal expression among high cytokine-producing cancer cell lines. The current study provides evidence that several head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cell lines have a level of constitutively bound AHR at the IL6 promoter, allowing for higher basal and readily inducible IL6 transcription. Treatment of these cell lines with an AHR antagonist led to dismissal of the AHR from the IL6 promoter and recruitment of corepressor complexes, thus diminishing cytokine expression. Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma is typically a high cytokine-producing tumor type, with IL6 expression levels correlating with disease aggressiveness. For this reason, AHR antagonist treatment could represent a novel adjuvant therapy for patients, lowering pro-growth and antiapoptotic signaling with minimal systemic side effects.