Forty-four patients with high risk primary myelodysplastic syndromes and an excess of marrow blasts were treated with a combination of low-dose Ara-C, retinoic acid and vitamin D3. Morphological subtypes were refractory anemia with excess of blasts (RAEB) in 16, RAEB in transformation (RAEB-T) in 20 and chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML) in eight patients. The therapy was continued in responders until relapse or death. The results were compared to those of a matched control of 44 patients given a supportive therapy only. In the treated group the overall response rate was 50% (75% in RAEB, 50% in RAEB-T and 0% in CMML) and the survival was significantly better than in the control group (P < 0.025). Comparing separately each FAB subgroup gave statistical evidence that the treatment prolonged the survival in the RAEB-T subgroup only (P < 0.002). The median duration of response was 15 months and the survival in responders was statistically better than in non-responders (P < 0.0001). Myelosuppression has been the most important side effect, however, no death related to the treatment was observed. Our study suggests that patients with RAEB-T, who are not suitable candidates for aggressive chemotherapy, could benefit from our treatment schedule. The long duration of therapy seems to be of value for patients achieving a response in order to prolong the survival. The toxicity is acceptable and the therapy can be given on an outpatient basis.