The transcriptional induction of the cytochrome P-450 1A1 (CYP1A1) gene by xenobiotics such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons is dependent on their interaction with the aryl hydrocarbon receptor. Administration of the structurally unrelated compounds metyrapone (a cytochrome P-450 inhibitor) or dexamethasone (a glucocorticoid) to male rats does not induce hepatic CYP1A1 mRNA. However, administration of both metyrapone and dexamethasone to male rats results in the induction of hepatic CYP1A1 mRNA expression. The induction response is mimicked in vitro in cultured rat hepatocytes by the addition of metyrapone and dexamethasone to a serum-free culture medium, suggesting that these compounds act directly on the liver in vivo to effect hepatic CYP1A1 mRNA induction. An examination of the characteristics of CYP1A1 induction by metyrapone and dexamethasone in combination in vitro indicate that at least 6 h of treatment is required for detectable levels of CYP1A1 mRNA to accumulate in hepatocytes. In contrast, β-naphthoflavone, which is known to bind to the aryl hydrocarbon receptor to effect CYP1A1 gene expression, induces detectable levels of CYP1A1 mRNA within 2 h of treatment. CYP1A1 mRNA is also induced when hepatocytes are treated with metyrapone in combination with the protein synthesis inhibitor cycloheximide but not with dexamethasone in combination with cycloheximide, indicating that CYP1A1 mRNA induction is strictly dependent on the presence of metyrapone and suggesting that the metyrapone-associated induction of CYP1A1 mRNA is dependent on a loss of a constitutively expressed protein that functions to suppress CYP1A1 gene expression. The role of dexamethasone in metyrapone-associated induction of CYP1A1 is probably mediated through the glucocorticoid receptor since the glucocorticoid receptor antagonist RU486 reduces the levels of CYP1A1 mRNA induced by metyrapone and dexamethasone in combination. Increasing the levels of the photosensitizer riboflavin present in the culture medium 10-fold and exposure to light increases the levels of CYP1A1 mRNA induced by metyrapone and dexamethasone in combination in vitro, suggesting that photoactivation of inducing medium constituent(s) might be required for induction. Failure to induce CYP1A1 mRNA by co-administration of metyrapone and dexamethasone in hepatocytes cultured in a balanced salt solution with or without photoactivation indicates that induction is dependent on a photoactivated component of the culture medium and not on metyrapone or dexamethasone alone. The addition of tryptophan in the presence of riboflavin to the balanced salt solution restores CYP1A1 mRNA induction by metyrapone alone and induction is increased when medium is exposed to light, indicating that induction is dependent on tryptophan photoactivation in vitro. Metyrapone failed to compete with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin for specific binding to the aryl hydrocarbon receptor in rat liver cytosolic fractions. These results suggest that CYP1A1 might be induced in rats by metyrapone through an indirect mechanism associated with an elevation in the level of an endogenously generated inducer such as photoactivated product(s) of tryptophan and not because of metyrapone's interacting with the aryl hydrocarbon receptor. The dependence of CYP1A1 induction on dexamethasone or cycloheximide suggests that derepression by a glucocorticoid receptor-modulated negative-acting factor of CYP1A1 gene expression might be critical to induction by metyrapone.

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