Keeping an eye on retinoic acid signaling during eye development

Chem Biol Interact. 2009 Mar 16;178(1-3):178-81. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2008.09.004. Epub 2008 Sep 11.


Retinoic acid is a metabolic derivative of vitamin A that plays an essential function in cell-cell signaling by serving as a ligand for nuclear receptors that directly regulate gene expression. The final step in the conversion of retinol to retinoic acid is carried out by three retinaldehyde dehydrogenases encoded by Raldh1 (Aldh1a1), Raldh2 (Aldh1a2), and Raldh3 (Aldh1a3). Mouse Raldh gene knockout studies have been instrumental in understanding the mechanism of retinoic acid action during eye development. Retinoic acid signaling in the developing eye is particularly complex as all three Raldh genes contribute to retinoic acid synthesis in non-overlapping locations. During optic cup formation Raldh2 is first expressed transiently in perioptic mesenchyme, then later Raldh1 and Raldh3 expression begins in the dorsal and ventral retina, respectively, and these sources of retinoic acid are maintained in the fetus. Retinoic acid is not required for dorsoventral patterning of the retina as originally thought, but it is required for morphogenetic movements that form the optic cup, ventral retina, cornea, and eyelids. These findings will help guide future studies designed to identify retinoic acid target genes during eye organogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Eye / embryology*
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Tretinoin / metabolism*


  • Tretinoin
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase