Down-regulation of aryl hydrocarbon receptor intensifies carcinogen-induced retinal lesion via SOCS3-STAT3 signaling

  • Chi-Hao Tsai
  • Yi Lee
  • Ching-Hao Li
  • Yu-Wen ChengEmail author
  • Jaw-Jou KangEmail author
Original Article


The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) is a ligand-activated receptor that regulates the metabolism of several xenobiotics and participates in ocular inflammation. Although severe inflammation is a major risk of retinal damage, the underlying mechanism is not well established. In this study, to elucidate how AHR mediates inflammation homeostasis, we hypothesized that AHR expression may diminish during long-term exposure to benzo [a] pyrene (B [a]P), a carcinogen in cigarette smoke. The blockage of AHR function considerably impaired suppressor of cytokine signaling 3 (SOCS3) negative feedback regulation and upregulated B [a]P-induced pro-inflammation. Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) was activated by B [a] P due to AHR dysfunction in human adult retinal pigment epithelial cells (ARPE-19). The STAT3-inducible element revealed higher activity in AHR knockout cells with B [a] P treatment, but not in wild type ARPE-19 cells. Moreover, AHR dysfunction led to STAT3 hypo-ubiquitination and changed the STAT3–SOCS3 interaction. Increased STAT3–SOCS3 complex during AHR dysfunction by B [a] P was suppressed by nifuroxazide in ARPE-19 cells. Furthermore, the in vivo results showed that STAT3 inhibition during AHR impairment by long-term B [a] P exposure preserved the retina thickness and reversed the visual function in male C57Bl/6 mice. Overall, long-term B [a] P exposure may attenuate AHR function, dysregulating the homeostasis of the SOCS3–STAT3 axis with intensive STAT3 activation. This finding is significant given that the disintegration of the AHR–SOCS3 axis is a sensitive factor involved in AMD-like lesion development in the retina, revealing that the low AHR level may be associated with cigarette smoking or xenobiotics exposure, causing retina inflammation and damage.


Aryl hydrocarbon receptor Benzo [a] pyrene Retinal degeneration SOCS3 STAT3 



The authors thank Editage for their assistance of language editing. This study was funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan [grant numbers MOST 105-2320-B-010 -042 -MY3].

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All animal procedures were approved by the Animal Care Committee of the National Taiwan University, College of Medicine (IACUC’s number: 20150376) and conducted in accordance with guidelines of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) statement for the use of animals in ophthalmic and vision research.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

10565_2019_9499_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.1 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 1.08 MB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Toxicology, College of MedicineNational Taiwan UniversityTaipeiTaiwan
  2. 2.School of Pharmacy, College of PharmacyTaipei Medical UniversityTaipeiTaiwan
  3. 3.Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, College of MedicineTaipei Medical UniversityTaipeiTaiwan
  4. 4.Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, College of MedicineTaipei Medical UniversityTaipeiTaiwan
  5. 5.Ph.D. Program for the Clinical Drug Discovery from Botanical Herbs, College of PharmacyTaipei Medical UniversityTaipeiTaiwan
  6. 6.Ph.D. Program in Biotechnology Research and Development, College of PharmacyTaipei Medical UniversityTaipeiTaiwan
  7. 7.Faculty of PharmacyNational Yang-Ming UniversityTaipeiTaiwan

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