Background: Retinoic acid (RA) is a morphogenetically active signalling molecule thought to be involved in the development of severely embryonic systems (based on its effect when applied in excess and the fact that it can be detected endogenously in embryos). Here, we adopt a novel approach and use the vitamin A-deficient (A-) quail embryo to ask what defects these embryos show when they develop in the absence of RA, with particular reference to the nervous system.
Results: We have examined the anatomy, the expression domains of a variety of genes and the immunoreactivity to several antibodies in these A- embryos. In addition to the previously documented cardiovascular abnormalities, we find that the somites are smaller in A- embryos, otic vesicle development is abnormal and the somites continue up to and underneath the otic vesicle. In the central nervous system, we find that neural crest cells need RA for normal development and survival, and the neural tube fails to extend any neurites into the periphery. Using general hindbrain morphology and the expression patterns of Hoxa-2, Hoxb-1, Hoxb-4, Krox-20 and FGF-3 as markers, we conclude that segmentation in the myelencephalon (rhombomeres 4-8) is disrupted. In contrast, the dorsoventral axis of the neural tube using Shh, islet-1 and Pax-3 as markers is normal.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate at least three roles for RA in central nervous system development: neural crest survival, neurite outgrowth and hindbrain patterning.