A molecular basis for retinoic acid-induced axial truncation

Dev Biol. 1999 Jan 1;205(1):33-48. doi: 10.1006/dbio.1998.9110.


Dietary deprivation and gene disruption studies clearly demonstrate that biologically active retinoids, such as retinoic acid (RA), are essential for numerous developmental programs. Similar ontogenic processes are also affected by retinoic acid excess, suggesting that the effects of retinoid administration reflect normal retinoid-dependent events. In the mouse, exogenous retinoic acid can induce both anterior (anencephaly, exencephaly) and posterior (spina bifida) neural tube defects depending on the developmental stage of treatment. Retinoic acid receptor gamma (RARgamma) mediates these effects on the caudal neural tube at 8.5 days postcoitum, as RARgamma-/- mice are completely resistant to spina bifida induced by retinoic acid at this stage. We therefore used this null mouse as a model to examine the molecular nature of retinoid-induced caudal neural tube defects by using a panel of informative markers and comparing their expression between retinoic acid-treated wild-type and RARgamma-/- embryos. Our findings indicate that treatment of wild-type embryos led to a rapid and significant decrease in the caudal expression of all mesodermal markers examined (e.g., brachyury, wnt-3a, cdx-4), whereas somite, neuroepithelial, notochord, floorplate, and hindgut markers were unaffected. RARgamma-/- mutants exhibited normal expression patterns for all markers examined, consistent with the notion that mesodermal defects underlie the etiology of retinoid-induced spina bifida. We also found that posterior somitic, but not caudal presomitic, embryonic tissues contained detectable bioactive retinoids, an observation which correlated with the ability of caudal explants to rapidly clear exogenous RA. Interestingly, transcripts encoding mP450RAI, a cytochrome P450, the product of which is believed to catabolize retinoic acid, were abundant in the retinoid-poor region of the caudal embryo. mP450RAI was rapidly induced by retinoic acid treatment in vivo, consistent with previous studies suggesting that it plays a critical role in retinoid signaling. These data suggest that nascent mesoderm is highly sensitive to retinoic acid and that mP450RAI serves to tightly regulate retinoid levels in the caudal embryo. These findings also raise the possibility that RA may play a role in the generation of posterior mesoderm derivatives in part by affecting brachyury expression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics*
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / drug effects
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / genetics
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / physiology
  • Fetal Proteins*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / physiology*
  • Mesoderm / drug effects
  • Mesoderm / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mixed Function Oxygenases / genetics
  • Neural Tube Defects / chemically induced
  • Neural Tube Defects / genetics*
  • Neural Tube Defects / prevention & control
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / deficiency
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / genetics
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / physiology*
  • Retinoic Acid 4-Hydroxylase
  • Retinoids / analysis
  • Retinoids / metabolism*
  • T-Box Domain Proteins*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology*


  • Biomarkers
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Fetal Proteins
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid
  • Retinoids
  • T-Box Domain Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • retinoic acid receptor gamma
  • Tretinoin
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Mixed Function Oxygenases
  • Retinoic Acid 4-Hydroxylase
  • Brachyury protein