1,4-Dihydroxy-2-naphthoic acid (1,4-DHNA) is a bacterial-derived metabolite that binds the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) and exhibits anti-inflammatory activity in the gut. The structure-dependent AhR activity of hydroxyl/carboxy-substituted naphthoic acids (NAs) was determined in young adult mouse colonic (YAMC) cells and human Caco2 colon cancer cells using CYP1A1/CYP1B1 mRNAs as Ah-responsive genes. Compounds used in this study include 1,4-, 3,5-, and 3,7-DHNA, 1,4-dimethoxy-2-naphthoic acid (1,4-DMNA), 1- and 4-hydroxy-2-naphthoic acid (1-HNA, 4-HNA), 1- and 2-naphthoic acid (1-NA, 2-NA), and 1- and 2-naphthol (1-NOH, 2-NOH). 1,4-DHNA was the most potent compound among hydroxyl/carboxy naphthalene derivatives, and the fold induction response for CYP1A1 and CYP1B1 was similar to that observed for 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) in YAMC and Caco2 cells. 1- and 4-HNA were less potent than 1,4-DHNA but induced maximal (TCDD-like) response for CYP1B1 (both cell lines) and CYP1A1 (Caco2 cells). With the exception of 1- and 2-NA, all compounds significantly induced Cyp1b1 in YAMC cells and these responses were not observed in AhR-deficient YAMC cells generated using CRISPR/Cas9 technology. In addition, we also observed that 1- and 2-NOH (and 1,4-DHNA) were weak AhR agonists, and 1- and 2-NOH also exhibited partial AhR antagonist activity. Structure–activity relationship studies for CYP1A1 but not CYP1B1 were similar in both cell lines, and CYP1A1 induction required one or both 1,4-dihydroxy substituents and activity was significantly enhanced by the 2-carboxyl group. We also used computational analysis to show that 1,4-DHNA and TCDD share similar interactions within the AhR binding pocket and differ primarily due to the negatively charged group of 1,4-DHNA.

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