Toxicology and applied pharmacology

Non-coplanar polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are direct agonists for the human pregnane-X receptor and constitutive androstane receptor, and activate target gene expression in a tissue-specific manner.

PMID 22664347


The polychlorinated biphenyl group possesses high environmental persistence, leading to bioaccumulation and a number of adverse effects in mammals. Whilst coplanar PCBs elicit their toxic effects through agonism of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor; however, non-coplanar PCBs are not ligands for AhR, but may be ligands for members of the nuclear receptor family of proteins. To better understand the biological actions of non-coplanar PCBs, we have undertaken a systematic analysis of their ability to activate PXR and CAR-mediated effects. Cells were exposed to a range of non-coplanar PCBs (99, 138, 153, 180 and 194), or the coplanar PCB77: Direct activation of PXR and CAR was measured using a mammalian receptor activation assay in human liver cells, with rifampicin and CITCO used as positive controls ligands for PXR and CAR, respectively; activation of target gene expression was examined using reporter gene plasmids for CYP3A4 and MDR1 transfected into liver, intestine and lung cell lines. Several of the non-coplanar PCBs directly activated PXR and CAR, whilst the coplanar PCB77 did not. Non-coplanar PCBs were also able to activate PXR/CAR target gene expression in a substitution- and tissue-specific manner. Non-coplanar PCBs act as direct activators for the nuclear receptors PXR and CAR, and are able to elicit transcriptional activation of target genes in a substitution- and tissue-dependent manner. Chronic activation of PXR/CAR is linked to adverse effects and must be included in any risk assessment of PCBs.