CYP26B1 limits inappropriate activation of RARgamma by retinoic acid during murine embryogenesis
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Proper embryonic patterning requires precise spatio-temporal regulation of retinoic acid (RA) activity. Morphogenesis can be regulated at the level of RA distribution, mainly via its synthesis and catabolism by the RALDH and CYP26 enzymes respectively, and at the level of RA-mediated transcription through activation of its cognate nuclear receptor, the retinoic acid receptors (RARs) α, β, and γ. Loss of Cyp26b1 leads to increased local levels of RA in tissues such as the limb and craniofacial structures, and results in neonatal lethality. Visible gross phenotypic defects in neonates include phocomelia (shortening of the limbs), adactyly (missing digits), micrognathia (shortened lower jaw), and open eyes at birth. In addition, these embryos exhibit cleft palate and have a paucity of vibrissal (whisker) and pelage (hair) follicles. We have previously shown that ablating the gene encoding RARγ in a Cyp26a1-null background was able to rescue the caudal abnormalities associated with improper RA exposure in these embryos by limiting aberrant RA signalling, and thus rescuing expression domains of target genes involved in caudal development. I show here that ablating Rarg in a Cyp26b1-null background is able to partially rescue the defects associated with loss of CYP26B1. These include a reduction in the severity of limb defects, rescued vibrissae, fused eyelids, and recovered aspects of axial skeletal development. This compound-null murine model illustrates that RARγ plays a specific role in transducing the RA signal within tissues that are affected by the loss of CYP26B1. Further molecular analysis of the pathways responsible for directing limb bud outgrowth and eyelid fusion provided insight into pathways regulated by RARγ in these rescued tissues.