What's retinoic acid got to do with it? Retinoic acid regulation of the neural crest in craniofacial and ocular development

Antionette L. Williams, Brenda L. Bohnsack*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Retinoic acid (RA), the active derivative of vitamin A (retinol), is an essential morphogen signaling molecule and major regulator of embryonic development. The dysregulation of RA levels during embryogenesis has been associated with numerous congenital anomalies, including craniofacial, auditory, and ocular defects. These anomalies result from disruptions in the cranial neural crest, a vertebrate-specific transient population of stem cells that contribute to the formation of diverse cell lineages and embryonic structures during development. In this review, we summarize our current knowledge of the RA-mediated regulation of cranial neural crest induction at the edge of the neural tube and the migration of these cells into the craniofacial region. Further, we discuss the role of RA in the regulation of cranial neural crest cells found within the frontonasal process, periocular mesenchyme, and pharyngeal arches, which eventually form the bones and connective tissues of the head and neck and contribute to structures in the anterior segment of the eye. We then review our understanding of the mechanisms underlying congenital craniofacial and ocular diseases caused by either the genetic or toxic disruption of RA signaling. Finally, we discuss the role of RA in maintaining neural crest-derived structures in postembryonic tissues and the implications of these studies in creating new treatments for degenerative craniofacial and ocular diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23308
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • auditory development
  • cranial neural crest
  • craniofacial development
  • ocular development
  • retinoic acid signaling
  • vitamin A

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Endocrinology
  • Cell Biology


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