Feedback mechanisms regulate retinoic acid production and degradation in the zebrafish embryo

Mech Dev. 2004 Apr;121(4):339-50. doi: 10.1016/j.mod.2004.02.008.


Retinoic acid (RA) signaling in vertebrate embryos occurs in a distinct physical and temporal pattern. Regulating this spatial distribution is crucial to the development of the embryo, as RA in excess or in inappropriate tissues is teratogenic. In order to understand how RA availability is determined in zebrafish we have investigated the expression of cyp26a1, an enzyme that inactivates RA, and its relationship to raldh2, one of the enzymes that produce RA from retinal. cyp26a1 expression follows three phases: in presumptive anterior neurectoderm and in a circumblastoporal ring during gastrulation, in the tailbud throughout somitogenesis, and in multiple specific tissue types beginning at mid-somitogenesis and continuing through 48 h postfertilization (hpf). This expression was either adjacent or opposite to those tissues expressing raldh2. We then investigated how RA production might regulate these relationships. Endogenous RA produced by raldhs did not play a role in setting cyp26a1 expression in most tissues. However, exogenous RA regulates expression of both enzymes. cyp26a1 is up regulated in the embryo in a time, concentration, and tissue-dependent manner. Conversely, raldh2 expression is reduced with RA treatment. Tests of the raldh2 promoter in cell transfections proved that RA directly represses its activity. These data demonstrate that the feedback mechanisms regulating production and degradation of RA must be considered in any experiments altering levels of RA in the developing vertebrate embryo.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aldehyde Oxidoreductases / genetics
  • Aldehyde Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / genetics
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Feedback, Physiological / physiology*
  • Gene Expression
  • Retinal Dehydrogenase
  • Retinoic Acid 4-Hydroxylase
  • Tretinoin / metabolism*
  • Zebrafish / embryology*
  • Zebrafish / metabolism
  • Zebrafish Proteins


  • Zebrafish Proteins
  • Tretinoin
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Retinoic Acid 4-Hydroxylase
  • cyp26a1 protein, zebrafish
  • Aldehyde Oxidoreductases
  • Retinal Dehydrogenase