Specific combinations of nuclear retinoid receptors acting as ligand-inducible transcription factors mediate the essential role of retinoids in embryonic development. Whereas some data exist on the expression of these receptors during early postimplantation development in mouse, little is known about the enzymes controlling the production of active ligands for the retinoid receptors. Furthermore, at early stages of mouse development virtually no data are available on the presence of endogenous retinoids. In the present study we have used a recently developed high-performance liquid chromatographic (HPLC) technique to identify endogenous retinoids in mouse embryos down to the egg cylinder stage. All-trans-retinoic acid, a ligand for the retinoic acid receptors, was detected in embryos dissected as early as 7.5 dpc (i.e., a combination of midstreak until late allantoic bud stage embryos). At these stages, we detected mRNA coding for all the retinoid receptors, retinoid binding proteins, and two enzymes able to convert retinol to retinal (retinol dehydrogenase 5 (RDH5) and alcohol dehydrogenase 4 (ADH4)). We also detected retinal dehydrogenase type 2 (RALDH2), an enzyme capable of oxidising the final step in the all-trans-retinoic acid synthesis. In egg cylinder stage mouse embryos no all-trans-retinoic acid was detected. However, at this stage its precursor all-trans-retinal was present. In accordance with these HPLC observations, RDH5 and ADH4 were expressed, but no transcripts coding for enzymes that oxidise retinal to retinoic acid. Therefore, our results suggest that RALDH2 is a key regulator in initiating retinoic acid synthesis sometime between the mid-primitive streak stage and the late allantoic bud stage in mouse embryos.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.