Vitamin A and immune regulation: role of retinoic acid in gut-associated dendritic cell education, immune protection and tolerance

Mol Aspects Med. 2012 Feb;33(1):63-76. doi: 10.1016/j.mam.2011.11.001. Epub 2011 Nov 22.


The vitamin A (VA) metabolite all-trans retinoic acid (RA) plays a key role in mucosal immune responses. RA is produced by gut-associated dendritic cells (DC) and is required for generating gut-tropic lymphocytes and IgA-antibody-secreting cells (IgA-ASC). Moreover, RA modulates Foxp3(+) regulatory T cell (T(REG)) and Th17 effector T cell differentiation. Thus, although RA could be used as an effective "mucosal adjuvant" in vaccines, it also appears to be required for establishing intestinal immune tolerance. Here we discuss the roles proposed for RA in shaping intestinal immune responses and tolerance at the gut mucosal interface. We also focus on recent data exploring the mechanisms by which gut-associated DC acquire RA-producing capacity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / metabolism
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • B-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology
  • Dendritic Cells / drug effects
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance* / drug effects
  • Immunity, Mucosal / drug effects
  • Intestines / drug effects
  • Intestines / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Tretinoin / metabolism
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology
  • Tretinoin / physiology*
  • Vitamin A / metabolism*
  • Vitamin A / pharmacology


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Vitamin A
  • Tretinoin