Embryonic subcellular distribution of 13-cis- and all-trans-retinoic acid indicates differential cytosolic/nuclear localization

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Isotretinoin (13-cis-retinoic acid [13CRA], Accutane®) is used for the treatment of dermatological diseases. Isotretinoin is, however, teratogenic in animals and humans. The mechanism of action of its teratogenicity is still not clearly identified. It has little or no binding properties to cytosolic retinoid-binding proteins or nuclear retinoid receptors (RAR, RXR). One hypothesis is that the teratogenicity of 2 approximately equipotent teratogenic doses of 13CRA and all-trans-retinoic acids (ATRA) could mainly be correlated to ATRA in the nuclei, where the retinoic acid receptors (RARs) are located. To test this hypothesis, female mice at gestational day 11 were treated with approximately equipotent teratogenic doses of 13-cis-retinoic acid (100 mg/kg orally) or all-transretinoic acid (10 mg/kg orally) and sacrificed 1 h and 4 h after administration. Embryos were homogenized and centrifuged into 4 fractions, and the purity of the fractions was tested by quantification of marker constituents for various cell compartments. We analyzed, by RP-HPLC, nuclear, mitochondrial, microsomal, and cytosolic fractions, as well as embryo homogenate and maternal plasma. After treatment with 13-cis-retinoic acid, this substance was mainly located in the nuclear fraction of the embryo (∼82%), whereas all-trans-retinoic acid, after ATRA treatment, was mainly located in the cytosolic supernatant (∼64%). The binding to cellular retinoid-binding protein (CRABP) may limit the access of ATRA to the nucleus, in contrast to 13CRA, which does not bind to CRABP. The concentration of ATRA in the nuclear fraction was similar after administration of either 13CRA or ATRA. The teratogenic activity of 13-cis-retinoic acid could therefore be explained by its access to the nucleus and its possible conversion to all-trans-retinoic acids, which will interact with the nuclear retinoid receptors.

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