Role of retinoid signalling in the adult brain

Prog Neurobiol. 2005 Mar;75(4):275-93. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2005.03.002.


Vitamin A (all-trans-retinol) is the parent compound of a family of natural and synthetic compounds, the retinoids. Retinoids regulate gene transcription in numerous cells and tissues by binding to nuclear retinoid receptor proteins, which act as transcription factors. Much of the research conducted on retinoid signalling in the nervous system has focussed on developmental effects in the embryonic or early postnatal brain. Here, we review the increasing body of evidence indicating that retinoid signalling plays an important role in the function of the mature brain. Components of the metabolic pathway for retinoids have been identified in adult brain tissues, suggesting that all-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA) can be synthesized in discrete regions of the brain. The distribution of retinoid receptor proteins in the adult nervous system is different from that seen during development; and suggests that retinoid signalling is likely to have a physiological role in adult cortex, amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus, striatum and associated brain regions. A number of neuronal specific genes contain recognition sequences for the retinoid receptor proteins and can be directly regulated by retinoids. Disruption of retinoid signalling pathways in rodent models indicates their involvement in regulating synaptic plasticity and associated learning and memory behaviours. Retinoid signalling pathways have also been implicated in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and depression. Overall, the data underscore the likely importance of adequate nutritional Vitamin A status for adult brain function and highlight retinoid signalling pathways as potential novel therapeutic targets for neurological diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Vitamin A / physiology*


  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid
  • Vitamin A