Use of retinoids to analyze the cellular basis of positional memory in regenerating amphibian limbs

Biochem Cell Biol. 1987 Aug;65(8):750-61. doi: 10.1139/o87-098.


Cells of the amphibian limb regeneration blastema inherit memories of their level of origin (positional memory) along the limb axes. These memories serve as boundaries of what is to be regenerated, thus preventing regeneration of any but the missing structures. Because of its importance in determining the boundaries of regenerate pattern, it is essential to understand the cellular and molecular basis of positional memory. One approach to this problem is to look for position-related differences in a cell or molecular property along a limb axis and then show, using an agent that modifies regenerate pattern, that the cell or molecular property and the pattern are coordinately modified. We have done this using retinoic acid (RA) as a pattern-modifying agent and an in vivo assay that detects position-related differences in a cell recognition-affinity property along the proximodistal (PD) axis of the regenerating axolotl limb. RA proximalizes positional memory in the PD axis, posteriorizes it in the anteroposterior axis, and ventralizes it in the dorsoventral axis. The level-specific PD cell recognition-affinity property is proximalized by RA, indicating that this property and positional memory are causally related. The effects of RA on positional memory may be mediated through a cellular RA-binding protein (CRABP), since the concentration of unbound (apo) CRABP molecules is highest during early stages of regeneration when the proximalizing effects of RA are greatest.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amphibians / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Extremities / anatomy & histology*
  • Regeneration / drug effects*
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology*


  • Tretinoin