Retinoic Acid and Pitx2 Regulate Early Neural Crest Survival and Migration in Craniofacial and Ocular Development

Bahaar Chawla, Elisa Schley, Antionette L. Williams, Brenda L. Bohnsack*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Congenital eye and craniofacial anomalies are associated with the dysregulation of retinoic acid (RA) levels during embryogenesis. In the present study, we observed that RA and pitx2a cooperatively regulate early cranial neural crest migration from the rhombencephalon to the pharyngeal arches and from the mesencephalon and prosencephalon to the periocular mesenchyme and frontonasal processes. The cranial neural crest tracked toward areas of high RA activity (i.e., developing eye) and circumvented areas of low RA activity (i.e., mesencephalon). Although previous studies have shown that RA increased pitx2a expression at later stages of cranial neural crest development, in these studies we found that RA inhibited pitx2a expression in the early migrating ventral cranial neural crest. Increased RA or decreased Pitx2a expression decreased cell survival and inhibited ventral neural crest migration. Decreased RA or increased pitx2a expression markedly disrupted both dorsal and ventral neural crest migration. The tight control of RA and subsequent regulation of pitx2 were required for precise cranial neural crest survival and migration. These alterations in the neural crest in the periocular mesenchyme and frontonasal processes may reflect the craniofacial dysmorphism and microphthalmia observed in cases of increased (i.e., as resulting from isoretinoin exposure) or decreased (i.e., as may occur in fetal alcohol syndrome) RA signaling during pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-135
Number of pages10
JournalBirth Defects Research Part B - Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • embryogenesis
  • gene expression
  • retinoids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Embryology
  • Toxicology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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