Novel Endogenous Ligands of Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Mediate Neural Development and Differentiation of Neuroblastoma

Pei Yi Wu, Pei Yun Chuang, Geen Dong Chang, Ya Yun Chan, Tzu Ching Tsai, Bo Jeng Wang, Kuan Hung Lin, Wen Ming Hsu, Yung Feng Liao, Hsinyu Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) signaling has been suggested to play roles in various physiological functions independent of its xenobiotic activity, including cell cycle regulation, immune response, and embryonic development. Several endogenous ligands were also identified by high-throughput screening techniques. However, the mechanism by which these molecules mediate AHR signaling in certain functions is still elusive. In this study, we investigated the possible pathway through which AHR and its endogenous ligands regulate neural development. We first identified two neuroactive steroids, 3α,5α-tetrahydrocorticosterone and 3α,5β-tetrahydrocorticosterone (5α- and 5β-THB), as novel AHR endogenous ligands through the use of an ultrasensitive dioxin-like compound bioassay and liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-ESI-MS). We then treated zebrafish embryos with 5α- and 5β-THB, which enhance the expression of neurogenesis marker HuC. Furthermore, 5α- and 5β-THB both enhanced the expression of myelinating glial cell markers, sex determining region Y-box 10 (Sox10), and myelin-associated proteins myelin basic protein (Mbp) and improved the mobility of zebrafish larvae via the Ahr2 pathway. These results indicated that AHR mediates zebrafish neurogenesis and gliogenesis, especially the differentiation of oligodendrocyte or Schwann cells. Additionally, we showed that these molecules may induce neuroblastoma (NB) cell differentiation suggesting therapeutic potential of 5α- and 5β-THB in NB treatment. In summary, our results reveal that 5α- and 5β-THB are endogenous ligands of AHR and have therapeutic potential for NB treatment. By the interaction with THB, AHR signaling regulates various aspects of neural development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4031-4042
Number of pages12
JournalACS Chemical Neuroscience
Issue number9
StatePublished - 18 Sep 2019


  • 3α,5α-Tetrahydrocorticosterone
  • 3α,5β-Tetrahydrocorticosterone
  • Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor (AHR)
  • Myelination
  • Neural development
  • Neuroblastoma


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