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How Does Retinol Work?

How Does Retinol Work? How Does Retinol Work?


Retinol is also known as pre-formed vitamin A. Although there are a number of chemicals that are derived from vitamin A (called retinoids), vitamin A itself has a number of important biological functions. Its most prominent function is in the eyes. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, retinol becomes converted in the eye into a chemical called 11-cis-retinal. 11-cis-retinal is an important part of the protein rhodopsin, which is used by special cells in the eyes (known as rod cells) to detect low levels of light. When these cells absorb light, they turn 11-cis-retinal into trans-retinal. They then release the trans-retinal and create a chemical signal that eventually results in the optic nerve sending a signal to the brain, which causes it to perceive the light source.

Immune System and Blood

All mature blood cells come from precursor cells, also known as blood stem cells. In order for these stem cells to turn into mature and functional blood cells, certain chemical signals must be present. Both red and white blood cells need retinol to develop from blood stem cells. Some stem cells mature into red blood cells in the presence of retinol. In addition, retinol appears to cause iron to be made into hemoglobin, which red blood cells need to carry oxygen. In the immune system, retinol is important for the formation of white blood cells. It also activates one type of white blood cell, called the T-cell. Finally, retinol is important for repairing the lining of the lungs, digestive system, and lungs.

Gene Regulation and Development

Retinol affects DNA and gene regulation. Essentially, retinol is able to bind to special proteins that bind to DNA. When retinol binds to these proteins, it causes other proteins to localize to that piece of DNA, causing the genes to be transcribed (or "read") more quickly. Since genes need to be transcribed in order to be turned into proteins, the presence of retinol can affect which proteins are made. Retinol also appears to be able to bind to genes that are influenced by the presence of the thyroid hormone and vitamin D.

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