Maternal-Fetal Transfer of Vitamin A and Its Impact on Mammalian Embryonic Development

Loredana Quadro, Elizabeth Kuhn Spiegler

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


The placenta, a hallmark of mammalian embryogenesis, allows nutrients to be exchanged between the mother and the fetus. Vitamin A (VA), an essential nutrient, cannot be synthesized by the embryo, and must be acquired from the maternal circulation through the placenta. Our understanding of how this transfer is accomplished is still in its infancy. In this chapter, we recapitulate the early studies about the relationship between maternal dietary/supplemental VA intake and fetal VA levels. We then describe how the discovery of retinol-binding protein (RBP or RBP4), the development of labeling and detection techniques, and the advent of knockout mice shifted this field from a macroscopic to a molecular level. The most recent data indicate that VA and its derivatives (retinoids) and the pro-VA carotenoid, β-carotene, are transferred across the placenta by distinct proteins, some of which overlap with proteins involved in lipoprotein uptake. The VA status and dietary intake of the mother influence the expression of these proteins, creating feedback signals that control the uptake of retinoids and that may also regulate the uptake of lipids, raising the intriguing possibility of crosstalk between micronutrient and macronutrient metabolism. Many questions remain about the temporal and spatial patterns by which these proteins are expressed and transferred throughout gestation. The answers to these questions are highly relevant to human health, considering that those with either limited or excessive intake of retinoids/carotenoids during pregnancy may be at risk of obtaining improper amounts of VA that ultimately impact the development and health of their offspring.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSubcellular Biochemistry
Number of pages29
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

Publication series

NameSubcellular Biochemistry
ISSN (Print)0306-0225

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology
  • Cancer Research


  • Beta-carotene
  • Carotenoids
  • Development
  • Embryogenesis
  • Fetus
  • Infertility
  • Lipoprotein
  • Mammals
  • Maternal
  • Maternal-fetal transfer
  • Placenta
  • Retinoids
  • Retinol binding proteins
  • Vitamin A

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