Activation of the Ah receptor by extracts of dietary herbal supplements, vegetables, and fruits

Anoek Jeuken, Bart J G Keser, Elaine Khan, Abraham Brouwer, Jan Koeman, Michael S. Denison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) is a ligand-dependent transcription factor that can be activated by a structurally diverse range of synthetic and natural chemicals, and it mediates the toxic and biological effects of environmental contaminants such as 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). The spectrum of chemicals that bind to and activate the AhR signal transduction pathway and the identity of materials containing AhR active chemicals is only now being defined. Utilizing AhR-dependent gel retardation and reporter gene bioassays, the screening of extracts of 22 dietary herbal supplements and 21 food products (vegetables and fruits) was performed to identify those containing AhR agonists. Several herbal extracts (ginseng, Fo-Ti, white oak bark, licorice, ginkgo biloba, and black cohosh) stimulated AhR DNA binding and gene expression to levels between 20 and 60% of that produced by TCDD. Although some food extracts (corn, jalapeño pepper, green bell pepper, apple, Brussels sprout, and potato) were relatively potent activators of AhR DNA binding (30-50% of TCDD), only corn and jalapeño pepper extracts induced AhR-dependent luciferase reporter gene expression. However, dilution of corn, jalapeño pepper, bell pepper, and potato extracts dramatically increased their ability to induce luciferase activity, suggesting that these extracts contained AhR antagonists whose effectiveness was overcome by dilution. Overall, these results demonstrate that dietary products can be a major source of naturally occurring AhR ligands to which animals and humans are chronically exposed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5478-5487
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Issue number18
StatePublished - Aug 27 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin
  • Ah receptor
  • Fruits
  • Herbs
  • Natural ligands
  • Natural products
  • TCDD
  • Vegetables

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Food Science
  • Chemistry (miscellaneous)


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