Vitamin A and its derivatives (collectively referred to as retinoids) are required for many fundamental life processes, including vision, reproduction, metabolism, cellular differentiation, hematopoesis, bone development, and pattern formation during embryogenesis. There is also considerable evidence to suggest that natural and synthetic retinoids have therapeutical effects due to their antiproliferative and apoptosis-inducing effects in human diseases such as cancer. Therefore it is not surprising that a significant amount of research was dedicated to probe the molecular and cellular mechanisms of retinoid action during the past decade. One of the cellular mechanisms retinoids have been implicated in is the initiation and modulation of apoptosis in normal development and disease. This review provides a brief overview of the molecular basis of retinoid signaling, and focuses on the retinoid-regulation of apoptotic cell death and gene expression during normal development and in pathological conditions in vivo and in various tumor cell lines in vitro.