Int J Biol Sci 2018; 14(1):69-77. doi:10.7150/ijbs.22259 This issue

Research Paper

Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Activation Modulates Intestinal Epithelial Barrier Function by Maintaining Tight Junction Integrity

Min Yu1#, Qimeng Wang1#, Yuanhang Ma1, Liangzi Li1, Kun Yu1, Zhicao Zhang1, Guoqing Chen1, Xiangsheng Li1, Weidong Xiao1, Pengyuan Xu2, Hua Yang1✉

1. Department of General Surgery, Xinqiao Hospital, Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China,
2. Department of Gastrointestinal Surgery, the Second Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University, Kunming, China
#These authors contributed equally to this work.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC) license ( See for full terms and conditions.
Yu M, Wang Q, Ma Y, Li L, Yu K, Zhang Z, Chen G, Li X, Xiao W, Xu P, Yang H. Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Activation Modulates Intestinal Epithelial Barrier Function by Maintaining Tight Junction Integrity. Int J Biol Sci 2018; 14(1):69-77. doi:10.7150/ijbs.22259. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Activation of Aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) is involved in the control of intestinal mucosal homeostasis. Intestinal barrier dysfunction contributes to the development of many intestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In this study, we investigated the mechanisms of AhR activation in the maintenance of intestinal barrier function. Adult C57BL/6 mice were treated with dextran sulphate sodium (DSS) for 7 days, with or without 6-Formylindolo(3,2-b)carbazole (FICZ), a ligand of AhR. We found that AhR activation by FICZ attenuated the decreased TJ protein expression in the colonic mucosa of the DSS-induced mice. Further, the increase of both MLC phosphorylation and MLCK expression in the mice with DSS-induced colitis was also significantly inhibited by FICZ induced AhR activation. For in vitro experiments, Caco-2 cells were treated with tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α)/interferon gamma (IFN-γ) for 48 h, with or without FICZ. AhR activation prevented TNF-α/IFN-γ-induced decrease in TER and morphological disruption of the TJs in Caco-2 monolayers. It also inhibited TNF-α/IFN-γ-induced increase in MLCK expression and MLC phosphorylation by suppression of NF-κB p65 signaling pathway. Thus, AhR-activating factors might have potential as therapeutic agents for the treatment of patients with IBD.

Keywords: Aryl hydrocarbon receptor, inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal barrier function, tight junction, myosin light chain