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Int Rev Cytol. 1999;188:73-131.

Retinoids and mammalian development.

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Department of Human Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.


All vertebrate embryos require retinoic acid (RA) for fulfilment of the developmental program encoded in the genome. In mammals, maternal homeostatic mechanisms minimize variation of retinoid levels reaching the embryo. Retinol is transported as a complex with retinol-binding protein (RBP): transplacental transfer of retinol and its uptake by the embryonic tissues involves binding to an RBP receptor at the cell surface. Embryonic tissues in which this receptor is present also contain the retinol-binding protein CRBP I and the enzymes involved in RA synthesis; the same tissues are particularly vulnerable to vitamin A deficiency. In the nucleus, the RA signal is transduced by binding to a heterodimeric pair of retinoid receptors (RAR/RXR). In general, the receptors show functional plasticity, disruption of one RAR or RXR gene having minor or no effects on embryogenesis. However, genetic studies indicate that RXR alpha is essential for normal development of the heart and eye. Excess RA causes abnormalities of many systems; altered susceptibility to RA excess in mice lacking RAR gamma or RXR alpha suggests that the teratogenic signal is transduced through different receptors compared with physiological RA function in the same tissue.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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