Retinoic acid (RA), an active metabolite of vitamin A (VA), is important for many physiological processes including energy metabolism. This is mainly achieved through RA-regulated gene expression in metabolically active cells. RA regulates gene expression mainly through the activation of two subfamilies in the nuclear receptor superfamily, retinoic acid receptors (RARs) and retinoid X receptors (RXRs). RAR/RXR heterodimers or RXR/RXR homodimers bind to RA response element in the promoters of RA target genes and regulate their expressions upon ligand binding. The development of metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes is often associated with profound changes in the expressions of genes involved in glucose and lipid metabolism in metabolically active cells. RA regulates some of these gene expressions. Recently, in vivo
and in vitro
studies have demonstrated that status and metabolism of VA regulate macronutrient metabolism. Some studies have shown that, in addition to RARs and RXRs, hepatocyte nuclear factor 4α, chicken ovalbumin upstream promoter-transcription factor II, and peroxisome proliferator activated receptor β/δ may function as transcriptional factors mediating RA response. Herein, we summarize current progresses regarding the VA metabolism and the role of nuclear receptors in mediating RA signals, with an emphasis on their implication in energy metabolism.
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