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Retinoid signaling during spermatogenesis as revealed by genetic and metabolic manipulations of retinoic acid receptor alpha.

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Department of Genetics and Development, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY 10032, USA.


The importance of dietary retinol (vitamin A) and retinoid signaling for normal development and differentiation has been recognised for many years. Vitamin A deficiency results in a variety of abnormalities, most of which can be corrected by supplementing the diet with all-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA), with the exception of blindness and male sterility. ATRA, an active metabolite of vitamin A, functions primarily by binding to nuclear receptors of the steroid hormone superfamily, the retinoic acid receptors (RARs). Gene targeting studies revealed the importance of ATRA signaling through the RARs for spermatogenesis. Mice that are homozygous for a null mutation in the gene encoding RARalpha, Rara-/-, exhibit defects in spermatogenesis and male sterility. The abnormalities in these RARalpha-deficient testes have been examined in detail in a series of recent studies from our laboratory and will be summarised in this paper. We also review how dietary, pharmacologic and genetic strategies, alone or in combination, can be used to gain further insight into retinoid function in mammalian spermatogenesis.

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