Retinoic acid receptor (IPR003078)

Short name: Retinoic_acid_rcpt

Overlapping homologous superfamilies


Family relationships


Steroid or nuclear hormone receptors (4A nuclear receptor, NRs) constitute an important superfamily of transcription regulators that are involved in widely diverse physiological functions, including control of embryonic development, cell differentiation and homeostasis. Members of the superfamily include the steroid hormone receptors and receptors for thyroid hormone, retinoids, 1,25-dihydroxy-vitamin D3 and a variety of other ligands [PMID: 14747695]. The proteins function as dimeric molecules in nuclei to regulate the transcription of target genes in a ligand-responsive manner [PMID: 7899080, PMID: 8165128]. In addition to C-terminal ligand-binding domains, these nuclear receptors contain a highly-conserved, N-terminal zinc-finger that mediates specific binding to target DNA sequences, termed ligand-responsive elements. In the absence of ligand, steroid hormone receptors are thought to be weakly associated with nuclear components; hormone binding greatly increases receptor affinity.

NRs are extremely important in medical research, a large number of them being implicated in diseases such as cancer, diabetes, hormone resistance syndromes, etc. While several NRs act as ligand-inducible transcription factors, many do not yet have a defined ligand and are accordingly termed 'orphan' receptors. During the last decade, more than 300 NRs have been described, many of which are orphans, which cannot easily be named due to current nomenclature confusions in the literature. However, a new system has recently been introduced in an attempt to rationalise the increasingly complex set of names used to describe superfamily members.

The retinoic acid receptors (RAR) belong to the large family of ligand responsive gene regulatory proteins that includes receptors for steroid and thyroid hormones. These proteins contain two highly conserved domains that are involved in determining their DNA and ligand-binding activities [PMID: 1849262]. Three distinct RARs have been identified (termed RAR alpha, beta, and gamma) and are encoded by genes on separate chromosomes. Additional isoforms of the receptors have been described, all of which differ in the N-terminal regions. Comparison of the amino acid sequences of human and mouse RARs indicates that interspecies conservation in members of the RAR subfamily (either alpha, beta or gamma) is much higher than conservation of the receptors within species [PMID: 2546152]. These observations indicate that RAR-alpha, -beta and -gamma may perform specific functions. hRAR-gamma RNA has been shown to be the predominant RAR RNA species in human skin, suggesting that hRAR-gamma mediates some of the retinoid effects in this tissue [PMID: 1849262].

The crystal structure of the ligand-binding domain (LBD) of the hRAR-gamma bound to all-trans retinoic acid has been determined to 2.0A resolution [PMID: 7501014]. Overall, the fold is similar to that of the human RXR-alpha apo-LBD, except for the C-terminal portion, which folds back towards the LBD core, contributing to the hydrophobic ligand pocket and `sealing' its entry site. A `mouse trap' mechanism is thus proposed, whereby a ligand-induced conformational transition re-positions the amphipathic alpha-helix of the activating domain and forms a transcriptionally active receptor [PMID: 7501014].

Synonym(s): 1B nuclear receptor

GO terms

Biological Process

GO:0006355 regulation of transcription, DNA-templated
GO:0048384 retinoic acid receptor signaling pathway

Molecular Function

GO:0003677 DNA binding
GO:0003708 retinoic acid receptor activity

Cellular Component

GO:0005634 nucleus

Contributing signatures

Signatures from InterPro member databases are used to construct an entry.