Retinoic acid has been known to play a key role in the regulation of bone cell differentiation and function. The effects of retinoic acid on human dental pulp cells, which contain several characteristics similar to those of bone cells, has yet to be elucidated extensively. The effects of retinoic acid on human dental pulp cells in terms of type I collagen and osteocalcin induction were investigated in vitro. Dental pulp cells obtained from the teeth of young patients (age between 18-22 years) were cultured and subsequently treated with various concentrations of retinoic acid (0, 10(-7), 10(-6), 10(-5) M) in serum-free DMEM. At different time intervals (8, 12 and 24 hours), the levels of type I collagen and osteocalcin secreted were determined using Type I Procollagen C-Peptide and Gla-type Osteocalcin EIA kits, respectively. Induction effects were evaluated using analysis of variance and the Duncan's multiple rank test. Retinoic acid at concentrations of 10(-5), 10(-6), 10(-7) M was able to induce type I collagen and osteocalcin production in human dental pulp cells within 12 hours of exposure. Dose-dependent induction was observed only after 24 hours. A two-fold increase in osteocalcin level was detected after exposed to 10(-5) M retinoic acid within 24 hours. Our data suggest that retinoic acid at concentrations of 10(-5), 10(-6), 10(-7) M has the ability to induce type I collagen and osteocalcin secretions in human dental pulp cells in vitro.