ARTICLE ABSTRACTThe aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) has been shown to play a role in an increasing number of cellular processes. Recent reports have linked the AhR to cell proliferation, cytoskeletal arrangement, and tumor invasiveness in various tumor cell types. The AhR plays a role in the de-repression of the interleukin (IL)6 promoter in certain tumor cell lines, allowing for increased transcriptional activation by cytokines. Here, we show that there is a significant level of constitutive activation of the AhR in cells isolated from patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Constitutive activation of the AhR in HNSCCs was blocked by antagonist treatment, leading to a reduction in IL6 expression. In addition, the AhR exhibits a high level of expression in HNSCCs than in normal keratinocytes. These findings led to the hypothesis that the basal AhR activity in HNSCCs plays a role in the aggressive phenotype of these tumors and that antagonist treatment could mitigate this phenotype. This study provides evidence that antagonism of the AhR in HNSCC tumor cells, in the absence of exogenous receptor ligands, has a significant effect on tumor cell phenotype. Treatment of these cell lines with the AhR antagonists 6, 2′, 4′-trimethoxyflavone, or the more potent GNF351, decreased migration and invasion of HNSCC cells and prevented benzo[a]pyrene-mediated induction of the chemotherapy efflux protein ABCG2. Thus, an AhR antagonist treatment has been shown to have therapeutic potential in HNSCCs through a reduction in aggressive cell phenotype. Mol Cancer Res; 10(10); 1369–79. ©2012 AACR.