Synergistic activity of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbon mixtures as aryl hydrocarbon (Ah) receptor agonists

K. Chaloupka, N. Harper, V. Krishnan, M. Santostefano, L. V. Rodriguez, S. Safe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


The relative potencies of benzo[a]pyrene and a complex mixture of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) produced as by-products of manufactured gas plant (MGP) residues as inducers of hepatic microsomal ethoxyresorufin O-deethylase (EROD) activity were determined in the B6C3F1 mouse. The ED50 values for the induction response were 78 and 65 mg/kg for benzo[a]pyrene and the MGP-PAH mixture, respectively. Analysis of the MGP-PAH mixture indicated that benzo[a]pyrene and other compounds containing four or more rings and which are known to induce EROD activity were only present as trace components of this mixture. A comparison of the EROD induction potencies of benzo[a]pyrene and the MGP-PAH mixture showed that the mixture was approximately 706 times more potent than expected based on its benzo[a]pyrene content (0.17%). This induced P-450 activity could significantly increase the metabolism of the carcinogenic PAHs and thereby modulate the overall carcinogenicity of the mixture. The apparent synergistic activity of the MGP-PAH mixture was further investigated by comparing the activities of this mixture and benzo[a]pyrene for several other aryl hydrocarbon (Ah) receptor-mediated responses including (i) induction of hepatic CYP1A1 mRNA levels, (ii) transformation of the rat cytosolic Ah receptor to a complex which binds to a dioxin responsive element, (iii) induction of EROD activity and (iv) antiestrogenicity in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells, and (v) inhibition of the splenic plaque-forming cell (PFC) response to both T cell-dependent and independent antigens in B6C3F1 mice. For the EROD and CYP1A1 mRNA induction and cytosolic transformation activities and immunosuppressive effects, the MGP-PAH mixture was approximately 100-900 times more potent as an Ah receptor agonist than expected based on its benzo[a]pyrene content. The synergistic activity was lower (19-fold) for the antiestrogenic response in MCF-7 cells. The reason for the synergistic effects of the MGP-PAH mixture were not due to contamination of the mixture by 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin and related compounds and the results suggest that the enhanced potency of the mixture is due to unknown interactions between the individual PAHs present in the mixture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-158
Number of pages18
JournalChemico-Biological Interactions
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Dec 1993


  • Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Synergistic interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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