Benzo[a]pyrene (BaP), a major environmental pollutant, activates aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR), induces its cytoplasmic-to-nuclear translocation and upregulates the production of cytochrome P450 1A1 (CYP1A1), a xenobiotic metabolizing enzyme which metabolize BaP. The BaP-AHR-CYP1A1 axis generates reactive oxygen species (ROS) and induces proinflammatory cytokines. Although the anti-inflammatory phytochemical baicalein (BAI) is known to inhibit the BaP-AHR-mediated CYP1A1 expression, its subcellular signaling remains elusive. In this study, normal human epidermal keratinocytes and HaCaT keratinocytes were treated with BAI, BaP, or BAI + BaP, and assessed for the CYP1A1 expression, antioxidative pathways, ROS generation, and proinflammatory cytokine expressions. BAI and BAI-containing herbal medicine Wogon and Oren-gedoku-to could inhibit the BaP-induced CYP1A1 expression. In addition, BAI activated antioxidative system nuclear factor-erythroid 2-related factor-2 (NRF2) and heme oxygenase 1 (HMOX1), leading the reduction of BaP-induced ROS production. The BaP-induced IL1A and IL1B was also downregulated by BAI. BAI inhibited the phosphorylation of Src, a component of AHR cytoplasmic complex, which eventually interfered with the cytoplasmic-to-nuclear translocation of AHR. These results indicate that BAI and BAI-containing herbal drugs may be useful for inhibiting the toxic effects of BaP via dual AHR-CYP1A1-inhibiting and NRF2-HMOX1-activating activities.
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