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Development. 1991 Apr;111(4):1007-16.

Retinoic acid treatment alters the distribution of retinoic acid receptor-beta transcripts in the embryonic chick face.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, University College and Middlesex School of Medicine, London, UK.


Retinoic acid is a metabolite of vitamin A that can act as a signalling molecule in a number of developmental systems. Retinoic acid is also known to be teratogenic in mammals, causing a range of defects including abnormalities in craniofacial development. Exposure of the developing chick face to retinoic acid released slowly from a bead implanted in the wing bud results in a specific facial defect, in which outgrowth of the frontonasal mass is inhibited. This results in clefting of the primary palate and absence of the upper beak. To investigate the role of nuclear retinoic acid receptors in normal and abnormal chick face morphogenesis, we isolated chick retinoic acid receptor-beta (RAR-beta) cDNA clones and probed northern blots of RNA isolated from chick embryos at stages 22, 24 and 25 and from adults. RAR-beta transcripts of 2.8 and 3.5 kb were present in several regions of the embryo, including the facial primordia, and were also present at much lower levels in adult tissues. In situ hybridisation showed that RAR-beta transcripts were present in all of the facial primordia at embryonic stages 20, 24 and 28, but that their distribution was not uniform. Transcripts were abundant in the lateral nasal processes, at the edges and corners of the frontonasal mass and in the anterior part of the maxillary primordia. Lower levels were present elsewhere. Treatment of stage 20 embryos with retinoic acid altered the distribution of RAR-beta transcripts in the maxillary primordia, such that high levels of transcripts were present throughout, rather than being confined to the anterior part. This change was detectable at stage 24, before any alterations in the morphology of the facial primordia were apparent. By stage 28, when the morphology of the facial primordia was clearly abnormal, there were more widespread changes in the distribution of RAR-beta transcripts. These results show that RAR-beta transcripts are particularly concentrated in regions of the primordia that give rise to the upper beak, the development of which is specifically affected by retinoic acid. In addition, they demonstrate that retinoic acid can induce changes in the pattern of expression of RAR-beta transcripts in vivo.

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