Retinoic acid (RA) induces the differentiation of F9 cells cultured as monolayers into primitive endodermal-like cells, whereas a combination of RA and cAMP leads to parietal endodermal differentiation. In RA receptor alpha-null F9 cells (RARalpha-/- cells), RA still efficiently triggers RARgamma-mediated primitive endodermal differentiation, but parietal endodermal differentiation is markedly delayed. To investigate the role of RARalpha1 activation functions AF-1 and AF-2 and of their phosphorylation sites during RA- and cAMP-induced parietal differentiation, cell lines reexpressing WT or mutated RARalpha1 were established in RARalpha-/- cells. We have found that the protein kinase A (PKA) phosphorylation site and the AF-2AD core (helix 12) of RARalpha1 are required for efficient parietal endodermal differentiation, whereas the AF-1 proline-directed kinase phosphorylation site is dispensible. Interestingly, deletion of the AF-1 activating domain (the A/B region), but not of the AF-2AD core, generates a dominant negative mutant that abrogates primitive endodermal differentiation when expressed in RARalpha-/- cells. We also show that the RARalpha AF-1 and AF-2 activation functions, but not their phosphorylation sites, are involved in the induction of RA-responsive genes in a differential promoter context-dependent manner.