Maternal vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy affects vascularized islet development

Chiao Yun Chien, Hsuan Shu Lee, Candy Hsin Hua Cho, Kuo I. Lin, David Tosh, Ruei Ren Wu, Wan Yu Mao, Chia Ning Shen

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11 Citations (SciVal)


Vitamin A deficiency is known to affect 20 million pregnant women worldwide. However, the prenatal effects of maternal vitamin A deficiency on pancreas development have not been clearly determined. The present study examined how maternal vitamin A deficiency affects fetal islet development. Vitamin A-deficient mice were generated by feeding female mice with a chemically defined diet lacking vitamin A prior to mating as well as during pregnancy. We found that maternal vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy affected fetal pancreas development. Although the exocrine differentiation appeared normal, development of islet tissue was impaired. In the pancreas of neonatal mice, only a few endocrine cell clusters were formed, and these cell clusters lacked capillary endothelial cells. To further determine how vitamin A metabolites, such as retinoic acid, regulate vascularized islet development, ex vivo culture of embryonic pancreas either in the presence of 4-diethylaminobenzaldehyde (DEAB; an inhibitor of retinaldehyde dehydrogenase), all-trans retinoic acid (atRA) or retinoic acid receptor agonist (E)-4-[2-(5,6,7,8-tetrahydro-5,5,8,8-tetramethyl-2-naphthylenyl)-1-propenyl] benzoic acid (TTNPB) was carried out. We found that the addition of DEAB blocked vascularization and suppressed β-cell differentiation. Conversely, atRA or TTNPB promoted β-cell differentiation accompanied by enhanced expression of vascular basement component, laminin. We further demonstrated that atRA regulated vascularization via upregulating vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A) secretion in embryonic pancreas and treatment with VEGF-A was able to partially rescue vascularization and β-cell differentiation in DEAB-treated embryonic pancreas cultures. The findings explain why maternal vitamin A deficiency affects fetal islet development and support an essential role of retinoid signaling in regulating vascularized islet development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-59
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Nutritional Biochemistry
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016


  • All-trans retinoic acid
  • Islet vascularization
  • Laminin
  • Vascular endothelial growth factor
  • Vitamin A deficiency


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