Cellular retinoic acid binding proteins: Genomic and non-genomic functions and their regulation

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Cellular retinoic acid binding proteins (CRABPs) are high-affinity retinoic acid (RA) binding proteins that mainly reside in the cytoplasm. In mammals, this family has two members, CRABPI and II, both highly conserved during evolution. The two proteins share a very similar structure that is characteristic of a "β-clam" motif built up from10-strands. The proteins are encoded by two different genes that share a very similar genomic structure. CRABPI is widely distributed and CRABPII has restricted expression in only certain tissues. The CrabpI gene is driven by a housekeeping promoter, but can be regulated by numerous factors, including thyroid hormones and RA, which engage a specific chromatin-remodeling complex containing either TRAP220 or RIP140 as coactivator and corepressor, respectively. The chromatin-remodeling complex binds the DR4 element in the CrabpI gene promoter to activate or repress this gene in different cellular backgrounds. The CrabpII gene promoter contains a TATA-box and is rapidly activated by RA through an RA response element. Biochemical and cell culture studies carried out in vitro show the two proteins have distinct biological functions. CRABPII mainly functions to deliver RA to the nuclear RA receptors for gene regulation, although recent studies suggest that CRABPII may also be involved in other cellular events, such as RNA stability. In contrast, biochemical and cell culture studies suggest that CRABPI functions mainly in the cytoplasm to modulate intracellular RA availability/concentration and to engage other signaling components such as ERK activity. However, these functional studies remain inconclusive because knocking out one or both genes in mice does not produce definitive phenotypes. Further studies are needed to unambiguously decipher the exact physiological activities of these two proteins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-178
Number of pages16
JournalSub-cellular biochemistry
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NIH grants DK54733, and DK60521, the Dean’s Commitment, and the Distinguished McKnight Professorship of University of Minnesota (LNW). I thank Shawna Persaud for preparing the figures.

Publisher Copyright:
© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016.


  • Differentiation
  • RARs
  • Retinoic acid


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