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Dev Biol. 1992 Jul;152(1):1-25.

Retinoic acid, local cell-cell interactions, and pattern formation in vertebrate limbs.

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  • 1Developmental Biology Center, University of California, Irvine 92717.


Retinoic acid (RA), a derivative of vitamin A, has remarkable effects on developing and regenerating limbs. These effects include teratogenesis, arising from RA's ability to inhibit growth and pattern formation. They also include pattern duplication, arising as a result of the stimulation of additional growth and pattern formation. In this review we present evidence that the diverse effects of RA are consistent with a singular, underlying explanation. We propose that in all cases exogenously applied RA causes the positional information of pattern formation-competent cells to be reset to a value that is posterior-ventral-proximal with respect to the limb. The diversity of outcomes can be seen as a product of the mode of application of exogenous RA (global versus local) coupled with the unifying concept that growth and pattern formation in both limb development and limb regeneration are controlled by local cell-cell interactions, as formulated in the polar coordinate model. We explore the possibility that the major role of endogenous RA in limb development is in the establishment of the limb field rather than as a diffusible morphogen that specifies graded positional information across the limb as previously proposed. Finally, we interpret the results of the recent finding that RA can turn tail regenerates into limbs, as evidence that intercalary interactions may also be involved in the formation of the primary body axis.

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