The Ah receptor (AHR) is capable of binding a structurally diverse group of compounds that can be found in the diet, produced by bacteria in the gut and through endogenous metabolism. The gastrointestinal tract is a rich source of AHR ligands, which have been shown to protect the gut upon challenge with either pathogenic bacteria or toxic chemicals. The human AHR can be activated by a broader range of ligands compared to the mouse AHR, suggesting that studies in mice may underestimate the impact of AHR ligands in the human gut. The protective effect of AHR activation appears to be due to modulating the immune system within the gut. While several mechanisms have been established, due to the increasingly pleiotropic nature of the AHR, other mechanisms of action likely exist that remain to be identified. The major contributors to AHR function in the gut and the most appropriate level of receptor activation that maintains intestinal homeostasis warrants further investigation.
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