The RelA NF-kappaB subunit and the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) cooperate to transactivate the c-myc promoter in mammary cells.
NF-kappaB/Rel transcription factors regulate many genes involved in control of cellular proliferation, neoplastic transformation, and apoptosis, including the c-myc oncogene. Recently, we have observed that levels of NF-kappaB and aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), which mediates malignant transformation by environmental carcinogens, are highly elevated and appear constitutively active in breast cancer cells. Rel factors have been found to functionally interact with other transcription factors. Here we demonstrate a physical and functional association between the RelA subunit of NF-kappaB and AhR resulting in the activation of c-myc gene transcription in breast cancer cells. RelA and AhR proteins were co-immunoprecipitated from cytoplasmic and nuclear extracts of non-malignant MCF-10F breast epithelial and malignant Hs578T breast cancer cells. In transient co-transfection, RelA and AhR gene products demonstrated cooperation in transactivation of the c-myc promoter, which was dependent on the NF-kappaB elements, and in induction of endogenous c-Myc protein levels. A novel AhR/RelA-containing NF-kappaB element binding complex was identified by electrophoretic mobility shift analysis of nuclear extracts from RelA and AhR co-transfected Hs578T cells. Thus, the RelA and AhR proteins functionally cooperate to bind to NF-kappaB elements and induce c-myc gene expression. These findings suggest a novel signaling mechanism whereby the Ah receptor can stimulate proliferation and tumorigenesis of mammary cells.