The aryl hydrocarbon receptor ArH is a nuclear receptor and as such a transcription factor which has been shown to be activated by dioxins and other environmental toxins. Upon ligand binding it is translocated to the nucleus, binds dioxin responsive elements on the DNA, and triggers gene activation notably of CYP 1 monoxygenases, which in turn degradate dioxins to more soluble compounds thus facilitating their removal. It not only binds dioxins, but polyaromatic substances like benzopyrenes in tobacco smoke and a variety of plant substances like e.g. indigo.
Its structure as basic helix loop helix (bHLH) protein has been determined.
It has been questionable how a molecule with such a ligand profile has survived evolution. Groups from Berlin have now determined bacterial secondary products as ligands of the receptor, too. In a paper in Nature this week they describe Pseudomonas aeruginosa phenazines and Mycobacterium tuberculosis phthiols as ligands which activate anti-bacterial responses in mice. This role makes much more sense in terms of evolution. It would be more beneficial to have the protein than not to have it. Nicely done.