The Role of the Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor (AhR) and Its Ligands in Breast Cancer

Stephen Safe, Lei Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Breast cancer is a complex disease which is defined by numerous cellular and molecular markers that can be used to develop more targeted and successful therapies. The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) is overexpressed in many breast tumor sub-types, including estrogen receptor -positive (ER+) tumors; however, the prognostic value of the AhR for breast cancer patient survival is not consistent between studies. Moreover, the functional role of the AhR in various breast cancer cell lines is also variable and exhibits both tumor promoter- and tumor suppressor- like activity and the AhR is expressed in both ER-positive and ER-negative cells/tumors. There is strong evidence demonstrating inhibitory AhR-Rα crosstalk where various AhR ligands induce ER degradation. It has also been reported that different structural classes of AhR ligands, including halogenated aromatics, polynuclear aromatics, synthetic drugs and other pharmaceuticals, health promoting phytochemical-derived natural products and endogenous AhR-active compounds inhibit one or more of breast cancer cell proliferation, survival, migration/invasion, and metastasis. AhR–dependent mechanisms for the inhibition of breast cancer by AhR agonists are variable and include the downregulation of multiple genes/gene products such as CXCR4, MMPs, CXCL12, SOX4 and the modulation of microRNA levels. Some AhR ligands, such as aminoflavone, have been investigated in clinical trials for their anticancer activity against breast cancer. In contrast, several publications have reported that AhR agonists and antagonists enhance and inhibit mammary carcinogenesis, respectively, and differences between the anticancer activities of AhR agonists in breast cancer may be due in part to cell context and ligand structure. However, there are reports showing that the same AhR ligand in the same breast cancer cell line gives opposite results. These differences need to be resolved in order to further develop and take advantage of promising agents that inhibit mammary carcinogenesis by targeting the AhR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5574
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 14 2022


  • AhR
  • TCDD
  • agonist
  • breast cancer
  • ligand

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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