Vitamin A deficiency results in the dose-dependent acquisition of anterior character and shortening of the caudal hindbrain of the rat embryo

Dev Biol. 2000 Apr 15;220(2):263-84. doi: 10.1006/dbio.2000.9635.


The developing nervous system is particularly vulnerable to vitamin A deficiency. Retinoid has been proposed to be a posteriorizing factor during hindbrain development, although direct evidence in the mammalian embryo is lacking. In the present study, pregnant vitamin A-deficient (VAD) rats were fed purified diets containing varying levels of all-trans-retinoic acid (atRA; 0, 0.5, 1.5, 6, 12, 25, 50, 125, or 250 microg/g diet) or were supplemented with retinol. Hindbrain development was studied from embryonic day 10 to 12.5 ( approximately 6 to 40 somites). Normal morphogenesis was observed in all embryos from groups fed 250 microg atRA/g diet or retinol. The most caudal region of the hindbrain was the most sensitive to retinoid insufficiency, as evidenced by a loss of the hypoglossal nerve (cranial nerve XII) in embryos from the 125 microg atRA/g diet group. Further reduction of atRA to 50 microg/g diet led to the loss of cranial nerves IX, X, XI, and XII and associated sensory ganglia IX and X in all embryos as well as the loss of hindbrain segmentation caudal to the rhombomere (r) 3/4 border in a subset of embryos. Dysmorphic orthotopic otic vesicles or immature otic-like vesicles in both orthotopic and caudally ectopic locations were also observed. As the level of atRA was reduced, a loss of caudal hindbrain segmentation was observed in all embryos and the incidence of otic vesicle abnormalities increased. Perturbations in hindbrain segmentation, cranial nerve formation, and otic vesicle development were associated with abnormal patterning of the posterior hindbrain. Embryos from VAD dams fed between 0.5 and 50 microg atRA/g diet exhibited Hoxb-1 protein expression along the entire neural tube caudal to the r3/r4 border at a time when it should be restricted to r4. Krox-20 protein expression was expanded in r3 but absent or reduced in presumptive r5. Hoxd-4 mRNA expression was absent in the posterior hindbrain, and the rostral limit of Hoxb-5 protein expression in the neural tube was anteriorized, suggesting that the most posterior hindbrain region (r7/r8) had been deleted and/or improperly patterned. Thus, when limiting amounts of atRA are provided to VAD dams, the caudal portion of the hindbrain is shortened and possesses r4/r5-like characteristics, with this region finally exhibiting r4-like gene expression when retinoid is restricted even more severely. Thus, regions of the anterior hindbrain (i.e., r3 and r4) appear to be greatly expanded, whereas the posterior hindbrain (r5-r8) is reduced or absent. This work shows that retinoid plays a critical role in patterning, segmentation, and neurogenesis of the caudal hindbrain and serves as an essential posteriorizing signal for this region of the central nervous system in the mammal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Cranial Nerves / embryology
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Ear / embryology
  • Early Growth Response Protein 2
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Models, Biological
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Rhombencephalon / abnormalities
  • Rhombencephalon / drug effects
  • Rhombencephalon / embryology*
  • Time Factors
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology
  • Vitamin A / pharmacology
  • Vitamin A / physiology
  • Vitamin A Deficiency / embryology*


  • Biomarkers
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Early Growth Response Protein 2
  • Egr2 protein, rat
  • HOXB1 homeodomain protein
  • HOXB5 protein, human
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Hoxd4 protein, mouse
  • Transcription Factors
  • Vitamin A
  • Tretinoin