The mechanism of action of acitretin is unknown, however it is believed to work by targeting specific receptors (retinoid receptors such as RXR and RAR) in the skin which help normalize the growth cycle of skin cells.
Acitretin is a retinoid. Retinoids have a structure similar to vitamin A and are involved in the normal growth of skin cells. Acitretin works by inhibiting the excessive cell growth and keratinisation (process by which skin cells become thickened due to the deposition of a protein within them) seen in psoriasis. It therefore reduces the thickening of the skin, plaque formation and scaling.
Following oral absorption, acitretin undergoes extensive metabolism and interconversion by simple isomerization to its 13-cis form (cis-acitretin). Both parent compound and isomer are further metabolized into chain-shortened breakdown products and conjugates, which are excreted.
Oral, rat: LD50 = >4000 mg/kg. Symptoms of overdose include headache and vertigo.