AhR-mediated changes in global gene expression in rat liver progenitor cells
Although the tumor-promoting effects of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), coplanar polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and related compounds in liver tissue are primarily attributed to the activation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), the underlying molecular mechanisms are still unclear. Liver progenitor (oval) cells have been suggested to constitute a potential target for hepatocarcinogenic chemicals. To better understand AhR-driven pathways, we analyzed the transcriptional program in response to coplanar PCB 126 in contact-inhibited rat liver progenitor WB-F344 cells using high-density microarrays. After 6-h treatment, we identified 145 significantly deregulated genes considered to be direct AhR-dependent target genes. The number of differentially regulated genes increased to 658 and 968 genes after 24 and 72 h, respectively. Gene ontology analysis revealed that these genes were primarily involved in drug and lipid metabolism, cell cycle and growth control, cancer developmental processes, cell-cell communication, and adhesion. Interestingly, the Wnt and TGF-beta signaling pathways, both being involved in developmental and tumorigenic processes, belonged to the most affected pathways. AhR- and ARNT-dependent regulation of selected target genes of interest was then confirmed using TCDD as a model AhR agonist, together with pharmacological inhibition of the AhR and by RNA-interference techniques. We demonstrated AhR-dependent regulation of emerging and novel AhR target genes, such as Fst, Areg, Hbegf, Ctgf, Btg2, and Foxq1. Among them, the transcription factor Foxq1, recently suggested to contribute to tumor promotion and/or progression, was found to be regulated at both mRNA and protein levels by AhR/ARNT activation.