The role of metabolism and toxicokinetics in retinoid teratogenesis

Curr Pharm Des. 2001 Jun;7(9):803-31. doi: 10.2174/1381612013397708.


Retinoids (vitamin A and its analogs) exert profound effects on a wide variety of life processes, including morphogenesis and embryonic development. Several retinoids are also effective drugs for therapy of skin diseases and some types of cancer. However, the applicability of this class of compounds is limited by their teratogenic activity. A major question in retinoid toxicology has been the marked interspecies differences in the lowest teratogenic doses of 13-cis-retinoic acid and retinol. In addition, great attention has been drawn to the risk assessment of embryotoxicity resulting from excessive intake of vitamin A by pregnant women. The present review first gives an overview of the biochemistry, metabolism and mode of action of retinoids as well as their role in embryonic development. It then summarizes the results of recent studies on retinoid metabolism, toxicokinetics, and embryonic exposure and discusses how the available information provides explanation of the aforementioned interspecies variations. Finally, it presents some approaches for risk assessment of high vitamin A intake by humans based on various animal models and epidemiological studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / pathology
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Pregnancy
  • Retinoids / metabolism*
  • Retinoids / pharmacokinetics
  • Retinoids / toxicity*
  • Teratogens / metabolism*
  • Teratogens / pharmacokinetics
  • Teratogens / toxicity*


  • Retinoids
  • Teratogens