Processes involved in retinoic acid production of small embryonic palatal shelves and limb defects

Teratology. 1990 Mar;41(3):299-310. doi: 10.1002/tera.1420410307.


All-trans-retinoic acid (RA) is teratogenic to the embryonic mouse, producing malformations in many developing systems, including the limb bud and palate. High incidences of limb defects and cleft palate are induced at doses which are not maternally toxic and do not increase resorptions. Exposure to RA on gestational day (GD) 10 results in small palatal shelves, which fail to make contact on GD 14. The formation of small shelves could be a consequence of increased cell death, reduced proliferation, a combination of these effects, or some other effect such as inhibition of extracellular matrix production. After exposure to 100 mg RA/kg on GD 10, proliferation in mesenchymal cells of the palatal shelves was not reduced from GD 12 to GD 14 and the levels of cell death in control and treated shelves did not differ when observed by light and electron microscopy. The present study examines the effects of RA on cell death and proliferation from GDs 10-12 and compares the effects in palatal shelves and limb buds. Embryonic mice were exposed to RA suspended in corn oil (100 mg/kg on GD 10), a dose that was teratogenic but not maternally toxic or embryolethal. Embryos were collected at 4, 12, 24, 36, or 48 hr postexposure, and tissues which form the palate or limb were dissected from the embryos, stained by a modified Feulgen procedure, and whole mounted on slides. Mitotic index (MI) and percentage dead cells were determined for mesenchymal cells of the first visceral arch, maxillary process, or palatal shelf (depending on stage of development) and forelimb buds. In the palatal tissues from GD 10 to GD 12, RA did not significantly alter MI and percentage dead cells was significantly increased only at 4 hr postexposure. Some whole embryos were prepared for scanning electron microscopy (SEM). At 48 hr (GD 12) a reduction in the size of the shelves was not apparent on SEM. In the limb buds, RA did not increase percentage dead cells, but MI was significantly decreased. A decreasing rate of proliferation was detected in control facial tissues as development progressed, and this agrees with findings in rat and chick. Thus it appears that mesenchymal cell death and reduced proliferation are not responsible for the small palatal shelves seen on GD 14. RA did not increase cell death but inhibited proliferation in the limb bud, and this effect may contribute to the retarded development and malformations occurring in the limb.

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / etiology*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Limb Deformities, Congenital*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mitosis / drug effects
  • Palate / abnormalities*
  • Palate / drug effects
  • Tretinoin / toxicity*


  • Tretinoin