The retinoid X receptor and its ligands: versatile regulators of metabolic function, cell differentiation and cell death. Academic Article uri icon


  • Retinoid X Receptors (RXRs) consist of a family of nuclear receptors that target and regulate multiple signalling pathways. The early evolutionary emergence of RXRs in comparison to other nuclear receptors may have allowed for the development of unique properties as transcriptional regulators. Indeed, the complexity of these receptors is derived from their ability to activate transcription as homodimers or as obligate heterodimeric partners of a multitude of other nuclear receptors. In addition, RXRs can regulate gene expression in a ligand-dependent (forming permissive heterodimeric complexes) or - independent (forming non-permissive heterodimeric complexes) manner. Given that ligand binding is a critical component of RXR function, this review will focus on the ligand dependent functions of RXR. The remarkably conserved ligand binding domain of RXR is a multi-functional structure that in addition to ligand binding, serves as a homo- and heterodimeric interface, and a region to bind coactivactor and corepressor molecules. RXRs have a small ligand binding pocket and therefore bind their ligands (such as 9-cis RA) with both high affinity and specificity. In the presence of ligand, permissive RXR heterodimers bind coactivators, but nonpermissive complexes can bind coactivators or corepressors depending on the activation of the RXR's heterodimeric partner. Physiologically, the temporal and tissue specific pattern of RXRs as well as the presence of phenotypic abnormalities in receptor knockout studies (most severe in RXRa -/- animals) demonstrate the important role for these receptors both during development (morphogenesis) and in adult differentiated tissues (cell proliferation, cell differentiation, cell death). These receptors also play an important regulatory role metabolic signaling pathways (glucose, fatty acid and cholesterol metabolism), including metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis. RXRs function as master regulators producing diverse physiological effects through the activation of multiple nuclear receptor complexes. RXRs represent important targets for pharmacologic interventions and therapeutic applications.

published proceedings

  • J Biol Regul Homeost Agents

author list (cited authors)

  • Ahuja, H. S., Szanto, A., Nagy, L., & Davies, P.

citation count

  • 95

complete list of authors

  • Ahuja, HS||Szanto, A||Nagy, L||Davies, PJA

publication date

  • January 2003