We have previously reported on the dependency of activated B lymphocytes for retinol. Here we confirm and extend these findings that cells deprived of retinol perish in cell culture within days, displaying neither signs of apoptosis nor of cell cycle arrest. Cell death can be prevented by physiological concentrations of retinol and retinal, but not by retinoic acid or three synthetic retinoic acid analogues. To exclude the possibility that retinoic acid is so rapidly degraded as to escape detection, we have tested its stability in intra- and extracellular compartments. Contrary to expectation, we find that retinoic acid persists for longer (t 1/2 3 d) in cultures than retinol (t 1/2 1 d). Furthermore, despite the use of sensitive trace-labeling techniques, we cannot detect retinoic acid or 3,4-didehydroretinoic acid among retinol metabolites. However, retinol is converted into several new retinoids, one of which has the ability to sustain B cell growth in the absence of an external source of retinol, supporting the notion of a second retinol pathway. We have also determined which of the known retinoid-binding proteins are expressed in B lymphoblastoid cells. According to results obtained with polymerase chain reaction-assisted mRNA detection, they transcribe the genes for cellular retinol- and cellular retinoic acid-binding proteins, for the nuclear retinoic acid receptors, RAR-alpha, -gamma, and RXR-alpha, but not RAR-beta. Our findings that B cells do not synthesize retinoic acid or respond to exogenous retinoic acid on the one hand, but on the other hand convert retinol to a novel bioactive form of retinol, suggest the existence of a second retinoid pathway, distinct from that of retinoic acids.

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