Comparison of the function and expression of CYP26A1 and CYP26B1, the two retinoic acid hydroxylases

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Graphical abstractAll-trans-retinoic acid (atRA) is an important signaling molecule in all chordates. The cytochrome P450 enzymes CYP26 are believed to partially regulate cellular concentrations of atRA via oxidative metabolism and hence affect retinoid homeostasis and signaling. CYP26A1 and CYP26B1 are atRA hydroxylases that catalyze formation of similar metabolites in cell systems. However, they have only 40% sequence similarity suggesting differences between the two enzymes. The aim of this study was to determine whether CYP26A1 and CYP26B1 have similar catalytic activity, form different metabolites from atRA and are expressed in different tissues in adults. The mRNA expression of CYP26A1 and CYP26B1 correlated between human tissues except for human cerebellum in which CYP26B1 was the predominant CYP26 and liver in which CYP26A1 dominated. Quantification of CYP26A1 and CYP26B1 protein in human tissues was in agreement with the mRNA expression and showed correlation between the two isoforms. Qualitatively, recombinant CYP26A1 and CYP26B1 formed the same primary and sequential metabolites from atRA. Quantitatively, CYP26B1 had a lower Km (19 nM) and Vmax (0.8 pmol/min/pmol) than CYP26A1 (Km = 50 nM and Vmax = 10 pmol/min/pmol) for formation of 4-OH-RA. The major atRA metabolites 4-OH-RA, 18-OH-RA and 4-oxo-RA were all substrates of CYP26A1 and CYP26B1, and CYP26A1 had a 2–10-fold higher catalytic activity towards all substrates tested. This study shows that CYP26A1 and CYP26B1 are qualitatively similar RA hydroxylases with overlapping expression profiles. CYP26A1 has higher catalytic activity than CYP26B1 and seems to be responsible for metabolism of atRA in tissues that function as a barrier for atRA exposure.

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