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J Craniofac Genet Dev Biol. 1991 Oct-Dec;11(4):315-25.

Retinoic acid alters epithelial differentiation during palatogenesis.

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  • 1Experimental Teratogenesis Section, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27711.


Retinoids are teratogenic in humans and animals, producing a syndrome of craniofacial malformations that includes cleft palate. This study investigates the mechanism through which retinoic acid induces cleft palate. Murine palatogenesis after exposure to retinoic acid in utero is compared to normal development and to alterations observed after exposure in organ culture to retinoic acid or epidermal growth factor (EGF). Human embryonic palatal shelves were placed in the organ culture system and the responses to retinoic acid and EGF were compared to those of the murine palatal shelves. Growth factors play a role in normal development and are found in the embryonic palate. In other cell culture systems, retinoids alter the expression of EGF receptors. Our results suggest that in the medial epithelial cells of the palate, retinoic acid sustains the expression of the EGF receptor and the binding of EGF at a time when the expression in control medial cells has declined, and these control cells subsequently undergo programmed cell death. The continued DNA synthesis, proliferation, survival, and shift in phenotype of the medial cells is believed to interfere with the adhesion and fusion of opposing palatal shelves, resulting in cleft palate.

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