Complementary domains of retinoic acid production and degradation in the early chick embryo

Dev Biol. 1999 Dec 1;216(1):282-96. doi: 10.1006/dbio.1999.9487.


Excess retinoids as well as retinoid deprivation cause abnormal development, suggesting that retinoid homeostasis is critical for proper morphogenesis. RALDH-2 and CYP26, two key enzymes that carry out retinoic acid (RA) synthesis and degradation, respectively, were cloned from the chick and show significant homology with their orthologs in other vertebrates. Expression patterns of RALDH-2 and CYP26 genes were determined in the early chick embryo by in situ hybridization. During gastrulation and neurulation RALDH-2 and CYP26 were expressed in nonoverlapping regions, with RALDH-2 transcripts localized to the presumptive presomitic and lateral plate mesoderm and CYP26 mRNA to the presumptive mid- and forebrain. The two domains of expression were separated by an approximately 300-micrometer-wide gap, encompassing the presumptive hindbrain. In the limb region, a similar spatial segregation of RALDH-2 and CYP26 expression was found at stages 14 and 15. Limb region mesoderm expressed RALDH-2, whereas the overlying limb ectoderm expressed CYP26. RA-synthesizing and -degrading enzymatic activities were measured biochemically in regions expressing RALDH-2 or CYP26. Regions expressing RALDH-2 generated RA efficiently from precursor retinal but degraded RA only inefficiently. Conversely, tissue expressing CYP26 efficiently degraded but did not synthesize RA. Localized regions of RA synthesis and degradation mediated by these two enzymes may therefore provide a mechanism to regulate RA homeostasis spatially in vertebrate embryos.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aldehyde Oxidoreductases / genetics*
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • COS Cells
  • Chick Embryo
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic / drug effects
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Retinal Dehydrogenase
  • Retinoic Acid 4-Hydroxylase
  • Transfection
  • Tretinoin / metabolism*
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Tretinoin
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Retinoic Acid 4-Hydroxylase
  • Aldehyde Oxidoreductases
  • Retinal Dehydrogenase