Revisiting the role of retinoid signaling in skeletal development

Birth Defects Res C Embryo Today. 2003 May;69(2):156-73. doi: 10.1002/bdrc.10010.


Several years ago, it was discovered that an imbalance of vitamin A during embryonic development has dramatic teratogenic effects. These effects have since been attributed to vitamin A's most active metabolite, retinoic acid (RA), which itself profoundly influences the development of multiple organs including the skeleton. After decades of study, researchers are still uncovering the molecular basis whereby retinoids regulate skeletal development. Retinoid signaling involves several components, from the enzymes that control the synthesis and degradation of RA, to the cytoplasmic RA-binding proteins, and the nuclear receptors that modulate gene transcription. As new functions for each component continue to be discovered, their developmental roles appear increasingly complex. Interestingly, each component has been implicated in skeletal development. Moreover, retinoid signaling comes into play at distinct stages throughout the developmental sequence of skeletogenesis, highlighting a fundamental role for this pathway in forming the adult skeleton. Consistent with these roles, manipulation of the retinoid signaling pathway significantly affects the expression of the skeletogenic master regulatory factors, Sox9 and Cbfa1. In addition to the fact that we now have a greater understanding of the retinoid signaling pathway on a molecular level, much more information is now available to begin placing retinoid signaling within the context of other factors that regulate skeletogenesis. Here we review these recent advances and describe our current understanding of how retinoid signaling functions to coordinate skeletal development. We also discuss future directions and clinical implications in this field.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Development / physiology*
  • Bone and Bones / embryology*
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / metabolism*
  • Retinoids / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid
  • Retinoids