Retinoic Acid Signaling in the Functioning Brain

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Science's STKE  28 Feb 2006:
Vol. 2006, Issue 324, pp. pe10
DOI: 10.1126/stke.3242006pe10

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Retinoic acid, an active form of vitamin A, regulates gene expression throughout the body, and many components of the signaling system through which it acts are present in the brain. Very little is known, however, about how retinoic acid functions in neurobiological systems. Several studies have provided evidence that retinoic acid plays a role in sleep, learning, and memory, but the precise mechanisms through which it influences these processes remain unclear. All of these processes involve local or long-range inhibition and synchronized neuronal activity between separate locations in the brain. A critical component in the generation of the synchronized firing of cortical neurons (cortical synchrony) is a network of inhibitory interneurons containing parvalbumin, a cell population affected by retinoid perturbations, such as exposure to a vitamin A overdose. An understanding of the role of retinoids in normal brain function would provide clues to the long-standing question of whether abnormalities in retinoic acid signaling contribute to the pathogenesis of some brain diseases with uncertain etiologies that involve both genetic and environmental factors.

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