Aryl hydrocarbon receptor-mediated disruption of contact inhibition is associated with connexin43 downregulation and inhibition of gap junctional intercellular communication
The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) contributes to the control of cell-to-cell communication, cell adhesion, migration or proliferation. In the present study, we investigated the regulation of connexin43 (Cx43) and Cx43-mediated gap junctional intercellular communication (GJIC) during the AhR-dependent disruption of contact inhibition in non-tumorigenic liver epithelial cells. The contact inhibition of cell proliferation is a process restricting the cell division of confluent non-transformed cells, which is frequently abolished in cancer cells; however, the mechanisms contributing to its disruption are still only partially understood. Disruption of contact inhibition, which was induced by toxic AhR ligands 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in epithelial WB-F344 cells, reduced Cx43 protein levels, possibly via enhanced proteasomal degradation, significantly decreased the amount of gap junction plaques and downregulated GJIC, in an AhR-dependent manner. Although both intracellular and membrane Cx43 pools were markedly reduced in cells released from contact inhibition by TCDD, siRNA-mediated Cx43 knock-down was not sufficient to stimulate proliferation in contact-inhibited cells. Our data suggest that downregulation of Cx43/GJIC in non-transformed epithelial cells is an inherent part of disruption of contact inhibition, which occurs at the post-transcriptional level. This process runs in parallel with alterations of other forms of cell-to-cell communication, thus suggesting that toxic AhR agonists may simultaneously abrogate contact inhibition and reduce GJIC, two essential mechanisms linked to deregulation of cell-to-cell communication during tumor promotion and progression.