Compound null mutations of retinoic acid receptor (RAR) genes lead to lethality in utero or shortly after birth and to numerous developmental abnormalities. In the accompanying paper (Lohnes, D., Mark., M., Mendelsohn, C., Dolle, P., Dierich, A., Gorry, Ph., Gansmuller, A. and Chambon, P. (1994). Development 120, 2723–2748), we describe malformations of the head, vertebrae and limbs which, with the notable exception of the eye defects, were not observed in the offspring of vitamin A-deficient (VAD) dams. We report here abnormalities in the neck, trunk and abdominal regions of RAR double mutant mice, which include: (i) the entire respiratory tract, (ii) the heart, its outlow tract and the great vessels located near the heart, (iii) the thymus, thyroid and parathyroid glands, (iv) the diaphragm, (v) the genito-urinary system, and (vi) the lower digestive tract. A majority of these abnormalities recapitulate those observed in the fetal VAD syndrome described by Joseph Warkany's group more than fourty years ago [Wilson, J. G., Roth, C. B. and Warkany, J. (1953) Am. J. Anat., 92, 189–217; and refs therein]. Our results clearly demonstrate that RARs are essential for vertebrate ontogenesis and therefore that retinoic acid is the active retinoid, which is required at several stages of the development of numerous tissues and organs. We discuss several possibilities that may account for the apparent functional redundancy observed amongst retinoic acid receptors during embryogenesis.

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