Mouse embryos lacking RXRα are resistant to retinoic-acid-induced limb defects

Henry M. Sucov*, Juan Carlos Izpisúa-Belmonte, Yolanda Gañan, Ronald M. Evans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Embryonic exposure to the vitamin A metabolite retinoic acid (RA) causes malformations in numerous developing tissues, including the limbs, which serves as a model system of retinoic acid action, RA treatment of wild-type mouse embryos results in digit truncations and long bone reductions. These effects are mediated by products of the retinoic acid and retinoid X receptor genes (RARs and RXRs), members of the nuclear receptor family of ligand-dependent transcription factors. Mouse embryos homezygous for a mutation in the RXRα gene appear normal in limb development, although such embryos are phenotypically affected in other tissues. We now describe resistance to limb malformations normally induced by teratogenic RA exposure in the RXRα(-/-) background. RA treatments that cause limb defects in 100% of wild-type embryos fail to elicit malformations in RXRα homozygotes, implicating RXRα as a component in the teratogenic process in the limbs. Heterozygous embryos are intermediate in sensitivity to RA, suggesting the importance of RXRα gene dosage in limb teratogenesis. Expression of the RA-inducible gene RARβ2 was equivalent between wild-type and homozygous embryos after RA treatment. RA treatment also did not distinguish between wild-type and RXRα(-/-) embryos in the spatial expression of sonic hedgehog (Shh) and hoxd-12, two other genes implicated in limb development. However, the quantitative level of hoxd-12 expression was elevated in RXRα(-/-) embryos. These observations indicate that transcriptional processes which are inappropriately regulated in the mouse limb by exogenous RA require RXRα for their execution, and that specific teratogenic processes, as well as specific normal developmental processes under vitamin A control, occur through individual members of the RXR and RAR families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3997-4003
Number of pages7
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Gene dosage
  • Limb defects
  • Mouse
  • Retinoic acid
  • RXR
  • Teratogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Cell Biology


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