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Development. 1997 Aug;124(16):3111-21.

Temporally-regulated retinoic acid depletion produces specific neural crest, ocular and nervous system defects.

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  • 1Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 53706, USA.


Both retinoid receptor null mutants and classic nutritional deficiency studies have demonstrated that retinoids are essential for the normal development of diverse embryonic structures (e.g. eye, heart, nervous system, urogenital tract). Detailed analysis of retinoid-modulated events is hampered by several limitations of these models, including that deficiency or null mutation is present throughout gestation, making it difficult to isolate primary effects, and preventing analysis beyond embryolethality. We developed a mammalian model in which retinoid-dependent events are documented during distinct targeted windows of embryogenesis. This was accomplished through the production of vitamin A-depleted (VAD) female rats maintained on sufficient oral retinoic acid (RA) for growth and fertility. After mating to normal males, these RA-sufficient/VAD females were given oral RA doses which allowed for gestation in an RA-sufficient state; embryogenesis proceeded normally until retinoids were withdrawn dietarily to produce a sudden, acute retinoid deficiency during a selected gestational window. In this trial, final RA doses were administered on E11.5, vehicle at E12.5, and embryos analyzed on E13.5; during this 48 hour window, the last RA dose was metabolized and embryos progressed in a retinoid-deficient state. RA-sufficient embryos were normal. Retinoid-depleted embryos exhibited specific malformations of the face, neural crest, eyes, heart, and nervous system. Some defects were phenocopies of those seen in null mutant mice for RXR alpha(-/-), RXR alpha(-/-)/RAR alpha(-/-), and RAR alpha(-/-)/RAR gamma(-/-), confirming that RA transactivation of its nuclear receptors is essential for normal embryogenesis. Other defects were unique to this deficiency model, showing that complete ligand 'knock-out' is required to see those retinoid-dependent events previously concealed by receptor functional redundancy, and reinforcing that retinoid receptors have separate yet overlapping contributions in the embryo. This model allows for precise targeting of retinoid form and deficiency to specific developmental windows, and will facilitate studies of distinct temporal events.

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