Retinoic acid: its biosynthesis and metabolism

Prog Nucleic Acid Res Mol Biol. 1999;63:139-88. doi: 10.1016/s0079-6603(08)60722-9.


This article presents a model that integrates the functions of retinoid-binding proteins with retinoid metabolism. One of these proteins, the widely expressed (throughout retinoid target tissues and in all vertebrates) and highly conserved cellular retinol-binding protein (CRBP), sequesters retinol in an internal binding pocket that segregates it from the intracellular milieu. The CRBP-retinol complex appears to be the quantitatively major form of retinol in vivo, and may protect the promiscuous substrate from nonenzymatic degradation and/or non-specific enzymes. For example, at least seven types of dehydrogenases catalyze retinal synthesis from unbound retinol in vitro (NAD+ vs. NADP+ dependent, cytosolic vs. microsomal, short-chain dehydrogenases/reductases vs. medium-chain alcohol dehydrogenases). But only a fraction of these (some of the short-chain de-hydrogenases/reductases) have the fascinating additional ability of catalyzing retinal synthesis from CRBP-bound retinol as well. Similarly, CRBP and/or other retinoid-binding proteins function in the synthesis of retinal esters, the reduction of retinal generated from intestinal beta-carotene metabolism, and retinoic acid metabolism. The discussion details the evidence supporting an integrated model of retinoid-binding protein/metabolism. Also addressed are retinoid-androgen interactions and evidence incompatible with ethanol causing fetal alcohol syndrome by competing directly with retinol dehydrogenation to impair retinoic acid biosynthesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Tretinoin / metabolism*


  • Tretinoin