Cross-talk between aryl hydrocarbon receptor and mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling pathway in liver cancer through c-raf transcriptional regulation
C-raf is a serine-threonine kinase and a downstream effector of ras signaling. This kinase plays an essential role in cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis. In the past, we reported induction of c-raf gene expression in rat liver cancer on treatment with a mixture of aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) agonists. This prompted our interest in investigating the role of AhR in the transcriptional regulation of c-raf. Initially, we cloned the rat c-raf promoter and sequenced the genomic DNA and cDNA by Southern blotting and capillary electrophoresis. Then, a genetic algorithm was applied to search for putative AhR-binding sites. DNA-binding activity of AhR was confirmed by electromobility shift assay. We also studied c-raf gene expression in rat hepatoma cell lines with functional and/or devoid AhR and in primary human and rat hepatocyte cultures. Overall, we identified five and three AhR-binding sites in the human and rat c-raf gene, respectively. Treatment of hepatocyte cultures with the AhR antagonist resveratrol reduced DNA binding of AhR. Only rat hepatoma cells with functional AhR responded to 1 nmol/L 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin treatment with >10-fold c-raf mRNA induction. Treatment of human and rat hepatocyte cultures with various AhR-activating chemicals resulted in induction of c-raf gene expression, albeit at different levels. Taken collectively, we show AhR to be a master regulator of c-raf and propose cross-talk between AhR and the mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling pathway in chemically induced hepatocarcinogenesis.