The regional pattern of retinoic acid synthesis by RALDH2 is essential for the development of posterior pharyngeal arches and the enteric nervous system

Development. 2003 Jun;130(11):2525-34. doi: 10.1242/dev.00463.


Targeted inactivation of the mouse retinaldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (RALDH2/ALDH1a2), the enzyme responsible for early embryonic retinoic acid synthesis, is embryonic lethal because of defects in early heart morphogenesis. Transient maternal RA supplementation from E7.5 to (at least) E8.5 rescues most of these defects, but the supplemented Raldh2(-/-) mutants die prenatally, from a lack of septation of the heart outflow tract (Niederreither, K., Vermot, J., Messaddeq, N., Schuhbaur, B., Chambon, P. and Dollé, P. (2001). Development 128, 1019-1031). We have investigated the developmental basis for this defect, and found that the RA-supplemented Raldh2(-/-) embryos exhibit impaired development of their posterior (3rd-6th) branchial arch region. While the development of the first and second arches and their derivatives, as well as the formation of the first branchial pouch, appear to proceed normally, more posterior pharyngeal pouches fail to form and the pharyngeal endoderm develops a rudimentary, pouch-like structure. All derivatives of the posterior branchial arches are affected. These include the aortic arches, pouch-derived organs (thymus, parathyroid gland) and post-otic neural crest cells, which fail to establish segmental migratory pathways and are misrouted caudally. Patterning and axonal outgrowth of the posterior (9th-12th) cranial nerves is also altered. Vagal crest deficiency in Raldh2(-/-) mutants leads to agenesis of the enteric ganglia, a condition reminiscent of human Hirschprung's disease. In addition, we provide evidence that: (i) wildtype Raldh2 expression is restricted to the posteriormost pharyngeal mesoderm; (ii) endogenous RA response occurs in both the pharyngeal endoderm and mesoderm, and extends more rostrally than Raldh2 expression up to the 2nd arch; (iii) RA target genes (Hoxa1, Hoxb1) are downregulated in both the pharyngeal endoderm and mesoderm of mutant embryos. Thus, RALDH2 plays a crucial role in producing RA required for pharyngeal development, and RA is one of the diffusible mesodermal signals that pattern the pharyngeal endoderm.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aldehyde Oxidoreductases / deficiency
  • Aldehyde Oxidoreductases / genetics
  • Aldehyde Oxidoreductases / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Branchial Region / drug effects
  • Branchial Region / embryology*
  • Branchial Region / metabolism
  • Cell Movement
  • Cranial Nerves / abnormalities
  • Cranial Nerves / embryology
  • DiGeorge Syndrome / etiology
  • Endoderm / metabolism
  • Enteric Nervous System / embryology*
  • Enteric Nervous System / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Hirschsprung Disease / etiology
  • Humans
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Mesoderm / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neural Crest / cytology
  • Phenotype
  • Pregnancy
  • Rhombencephalon / embryology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tretinoin / administration & dosage
  • Tretinoin / metabolism*
  • Vagus Nerve / embryology


  • Tretinoin
  • Aldehyde Oxidoreductases
  • RALDH2 protein, mouse