Retinoic acid receptors are ligand-regulated transcription factors belonging to the nuclear receptor superfamily, which comprises 49 members in the human genome. all-trans retinoic acid and 9-cis retinoic acid receptors (RARs and RXRs) are each encoded by three distinct genes and several isoforms arise from alternative splicing and the use of different promoters. While RXRs are promiscuous dimerization partners of several other nuclear receptors, RARs are active, in-vivo, when associated to RXRs. Retinoids are therefore regulators of multiple physiological processes, from embryogenesis to metabolism. Different combinations of RXR:RAR heterodimers occur as a function of their tissue-specific expression and their activity is mostly conditionned by the activation status of RAR. These heterodimers are defined as non permissive heterodimers, in opposition to permissive dimers whose transcriptional activity may be modulated through RXR and its dimerization partner. The transcriptional activity of these dimers also relies on their ability to recruit nuclear coactivators and corepressors, which function as multi proteic complexes harboring several enzymatic activities (acetylases, kinases). The structure of the ligand bound to the RAR moiety of the dimer, as well as the nature of the DNA sequence to which dimers are bound, dictate the relative affinity of dimers for coactivators and thus its overall transcriptional activity. RARs are also able to repress the activity of unrelated transcription factors such as AP1 and NF-k- B, and therefore have potent anti proliferative and anti inflammatory properties. This review summarizes our current view of molecular mechanisms governing these various activities and emphasizes the need for a detailled understanding of how retinoids may dictate transactivating and transrepressive properties of RARs and RXRs, which may be considered as highly valuable therapeutic targets in many diseases such as cancer, skin hyperproliferation and metabolical disorders (diabetes, atherosclerosis etc).
Keywords: Retinoic Acid Receptor, all-trans retinoic acid, Transcriptional activation, Glucocorticoid receptor interacting protein, Jun kinase, Period, aryl hydrocarbon (dioxin) receptor, single-minded, Peroxisome proliferator activated receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor