All-trans-retinoic acid (atRA) provides essential support to diverse biological systems and physiological processes. Epithelial differentiation and its relationship to cancer, and embryogenesis have typified intense areas of interest into atRA function. Recently, however, interest in atRA action in the nervous system, the immune system, energy balance and obesity has increased considerably, especially concerning postnatal function. atRA action depends on atRA biosynthesis: defects in retinoid-dependent processes increasingly relate to defects in atRA biogenesis. Considerable evidence indicates that physiological atRA biosynthesis occurs via a regulated process, consisting of a complex interaction of retinoid binding-proteins and retinoid recognizing enzymes. An accrual of biochemical, physiological and genetic data have identified specific functional outcomes for the retinol dehydrogenases, RDH1, RDH10, and DHRS9, as physiological catalysts of the first step in atRA biosynthesis, and for the retinal dehydrogenases RALDH1, RALDH2, and RALDH3, as catalysts of the second and irreversible step. Each of these enzymes associates with explicit biological processes mediated by atRA. Redundancy occurs, but seems limited. Cumulative data support a model of interactions among these enzymes with retinoid binding-proteins, with feedback regulation and/or control by atRA via modulating gene expression of multiple participants. The ratio apo-CRBP1/holo-CRBP1 participates by influencing retinol flux into and out of storage as retinyl esters, thereby modulating substrate to support atRA biosynthesis. atRA biosynthesis requires the presence of both an RDH and an RALDH: conversely, absence of one isozyme of either step does not indicate lack of atRA biosynthesis at the site. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Retinoid and Lipid Metabolism.
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