We have analysed the endogenous retinoids present in whole mouse embryos from day 9 to day 14 of development and in individual components of the embryo at two stages, day 10.5 and day 13, by HPLC. We can only detect two retinoids, all-trans-RA (tRA) and all-trans-retinol (t-retinol), and t-retinol is 5-10-fold in excess over tRA. We cannot detect 9-cis-RA or any didehydroretinoids; thus mammalian embryos seem to differ in their retinoid content from other embryos such as chick, Xenopus, and fish. The levels of tRA do not change significantly over the 6 days of development analysed, whereas t-retinol rises sharply as the liver develops. Within the embryo, tRA is present at high levels in the developing spinal cord and at very low levels in the forebrain; indeed there is a gradient of endogenous tRA from the forebrain to the spinal cord. Other parts of the embryo had intermediate levels of tRA. When a teratogenic dose of RA was administered to day 10.5 embryos, the levels of tRA present in individual tissues of the embryo rose dramatically--from 175-fold to 1,400-fold--and the levels rose in all tissues not in any exclusive areas. We then determined which areas of the embryo were malformed by such a teratogenic dose. The lower jaw, palate, vertebrae, tail, and limbs were consistently abnormal, and since these areas received a dose of tRA no higher than any other it was concluded that cell-specific factors must determine the teratogenic response of these tissues. We then considered whether cellular retinoic acid-binding protein I or II (CRABP I or II) played any role in this response by determining their relative levels in each of the tissues analysed. There was no correlation between the presence of CRABP I and II and the distribution of administered RA. Neither was there a clear correlation in detail between the presence of CRABP I and II and the sites of teratogenesis. We therefore conclude that other factors, for example, nuclear factors, must be responsible for the teratogenic response to RA.
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