The pleiotropic effects of retinoids are mediated by two families of nuclear receptors: RAR (retinoic acid receptors) and RXR (retinoid X receptors). 9-cis-Retinoic acid is a specific ligand for RXR receptors, whereas either 9-cis- or all-trans-retinoic acid activates the RAR receptor family. The existence of RXRs suggests a new role for isomerization in the biology of retinoic acid. We report here the identification of an aldehyde dehydrogenase in the rat kidney that catalysed the oxidation of 9-cis- and all-trans-retinal to corresponding retinoic acids with high efficiency, 9-cis-retinal being 2-fold more active than all-trans-retinal. Based on several criteria, such as amino acid sequence, pH optimum, and inhibition by chloral hydrate, this enzyme was found to be a novel isoenzyme of aldehyde dehydrogenase. 9-cis-Retinol, the precursor for the biosynthesis of 9-cis-retinal was identified in the rat kidney. The occurrence of endogenous 9-cis-retinol and the existence of specific dehydrogenase which participates in the catalysis of 9-cis-retinal suggest that all-trans-retinoi(d) isomerization to 9-cis-retinoi(d) occurs at the retinol level, analogous to all-trans-retinol isomerization to 11-cis-retinol in the visual cycle.

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