Aryl hydrocarbon receptors in the frog Xenopus laevis: two AhR1 paralogs exhibit low affinity for 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD).
2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) is a potent developmental toxicant in most vertebrates. However, frogs are relatively insensitive to TCDD toxicity, especially during early life stages. Toxicity of TCDD and related halogenated aromatic hydrocarbons is mediated by the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), and specific differences in properties of the AhR signaling pathway can underlie in TCDD toxicity in different species. This study investigated the role of AhR in frog TCDD insensitivity, using Xenopus laevis as a model system. X. laevis, a pseudotetraploid species, expresses two distinct AhR1 genes, AhR1alpha and AhR1beta. Sharing 86% amino acid identity, these likely represent distinct genes, both orthologous to mammalian AhR and paralogous to the AhR2 gene(s) in most fish. Both AhR1alpha and AhR1beta exhibit TCDD-dependent binding of cognate DNA sequences, but they bind TCDD with at least 20-fold lower affinity than the mouse AhR(b-1) protein, and they are similarly less responsive in TCDD-induced reporter gene induction in conjunction with the mouse CYP1A1 promoter. Furthermore, CYP1A6 and CYP1A7 induction by TCDD in cultured X. laevis A6 cells appears much less responsive than CYP1A induction in cell lines derived from more sensitive animals. Taken together, these data suggest that low affinity binding by X. laevis AhRs plays an important mechanistic role in the insensitivity of frogs to TCDD. An understanding of these molecular mechanisms should aid amphibian ecotoxicology and refine the use of frog embryos as a model [e.g. in FETAX (Frog Embryo Teratogenesis Assay-Xenopus)] for determining developmental toxicity of samples containing dioxin-like compounds.