This paper investigates the presence and functionality of retinoid signaling pathways in human urinary bladder carcinoma and SV40-immortalized uroepithelial cell lines. Only two of eight cell lines were proliferation-inhibited by 10 microM of either all-trans or 13-cis-retinoic acid. Transactivation of the CAT gene under control of a retinoid-responsive element demonstrated functionality of the signaling pathway in both sensitive cell lines and four of six resistant cell lines. Relative RT-PCR analysis of a panel of retinoid-responsive and inducible genes demonstrated changes in expression levels of all the genes in response to-retinoic acid treatment together with numerous aberrations dysregulations. We conclude that retinoid signaling may be a target for inactivation during tumorigenesis by uncoupling gene expression, proliferation and differentiation. Therefore retinoids are more likely to be effective for chemoprevention than for treatment of bladder carcinomas.