The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) is an environmental carcinogen-activated transcription factor associated with tumorigenesis. High levels of apparently active AhR characterize a variety of tumors, even in the absence of environmental ligands. Despite this association between transformation and AhR upregulation, little is known of the transcriptional consequences of constitutive AhR activation. Here, the effects of constitutively active and environmental ligand-induced AhR on c-myc, an oncogene whose promoter contains six AhR-binding sites (AhREs (aryl hydrocarbon response elements)), were investigated. A reporter containing the human c-myc promoter, with its six AhREs and two NF-kappaB-binding sites, was constructed. This vector, and variants with deletions in the NF-kappaB and/or AhR-binding sites, was transfected into a human breast cancer cell line, Hs578T, which expresses high levels of apparently active, nuclear AhR. Results indicate that: (1) the AhR constitutively binds the c-myc promoter; (2) there is a low but significant baseline level of c-myc promoter activity, which is not regulated by NF-kappaB and is not affected by an environmental AhR ligand; (3) deletion of any one of the AhREs has no effect on constitutive reporter activity, while deletion of all six increases reporter activity approximately fivefold; (4) a similar increase in reporter activity occurs when constitutively active AhR is suppressed by transfection with an AhR repressor plasmid (AhRR); (5) AhRR transfection significantly increases background levels of endogenous c-myc mRNA and c-Myc protein. These results suggest that the AhR influences the expression of c-Myc, a protein critical to malignant transformation.