Genetic and pharmacological analysis identifies a physiological role for the AHR in epidermal differentiation
In humans, the skin is a particularly sensitive target for 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and certain halogenated analogs. Reported lesions include a thickening of the epidermis (acanthosis), hyperkeratosis, and squamous metaplasia of the epithelial lining of the sebaceous glands. In this report we describe ongoing studies on the actions of TCDD on cultured human epidermal cells. This system has been established as an in vitro model for interfollicular epidermal hyperkeratinization. Treatment of newly confluent cultures with TCDD results in enhanced differentiation as judged by histologic examination of the cultures, a decrease in the number of basal proliferating cells, and an increase in the number of envelope competent (differentiating) cells and terminally differentiated cells with highly cross-linked cornified envelopes. Changes in the differentiation program are preceded by a decrease in epidermal growth factor (EGF) binding. The concentration dependence and stereospecificity for these responses suggest the involvement of theAh receptor. We propose that TCDD modulates normal patterns of epidermal differentiation through direct actions on proliferating basal cells, modulating the responsiveness of these cells to growth factors such as EGF.