Retinoic acid, a regeneration-inducing molecule



Retinoic acid (RA) is the biologically active metabolite of vitamin A. It is a low molecular weight, lipophilic molecule that acts on the nucleus to induce gene transcription. In amphibians and mammals, it induces the regeneration of several tissues and organs and these examples are reviewed here. RA induces the “super-regeneration” of organs that can already regenerate such as the urodele amphibian limb by respecifying positional information in the limb. In organs that cannot normally regenerate such as the adult mammalian lung, RA induces the complete regeneration of alveoli that have been destroyed by various noxious treatments. In the mammalian central nervous system (CNS), which is another tissue that cannot regenerate, RA does not induce neurite outgrowth as it does in the embryonic CNS, because one of the retinoic acid receptors, RARβ2, is not up-regulated. When RARβ2 is transfected into the adult spinal cord in vitro, then neurite outgrowth is stimulated. In all these cases, RA is required for the development of the organ, in the first place suggesting that the same gene pathways are likely to be used for both development and regeneration. This suggestion, therefore, might serve as a strategy for identifying potential tissue or organ targets that have the capacity to be stimulated to regenerate. Developmental Dynamics 226:237–244, 2003.© 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.