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Vitamin A has, apart from its function in the visual pigments, general effects on several organs. Early signs of vitamin A deficiency include keratinization of epithelia and hyperkeratosis of the skin. To elucidate a generalized function for vitamin A, we have taken the approach of tracing the vitamin from its storage site in the liver via its blood transport by the retinol-binding protein (RBP) to its uptake by susceptible cells. We have also examined the intracellular occurrence of vitamin A as regards its binding to specific receptor proteins. Here we summarize data on the amino acid sequences of several vitamin A-binding proteins. The finding that CRBP and CRABP, the two intracellular proteins, are homologous to each other, to a myelin protein, and to a fatty acid-binding protein may shed light on the functions of these proteins. Retinoic acid, which binds to CRABP but not CRBP, induces differentiation of teratocarcinoma cells. This is accompanied by a lowering of the CRABP concentration, an increase of the CRBP level, and an increase in the uptake of retinol from RBP. The epidermis contains both CRBP and CRABP, and their distributions are rather similar. However, in contrast to CRBP, CRABP is most abundant in cells lining the hair follicles. CRBP occurs in greatest relative amounts in the outer layers of the epidermis. Since techniques have been developed to measure CRBP and CRABP, normal and disease-affected skin may now be explored as to quantity and cellular distribution of the retinoid-binding proteins.

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Journal of Investigative Dermatology

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