Although retinoic acid has been shown to inhibit proliferation in human breast cancer cells, the mechanisms by which these effects are mediated are not known. Since several steroid hormones and their synthetic antagonists also inhibit proliferation of human breast cancer cells, we investigated the interactions between retinoic acid, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 [1,25-(OH)2D3] and antioestrogens in the control of human breast cancer cell proliferation in vitro. When T-47D cells, the most sensitive of six human breast cancer cell lines to the growth inhibitory effects of retinoic acid, were treated with retinoic acid and 1,25-(OH)2D3, a synergistic inhibitory effect on cell growth was observed. Retinoic acid also enhanced the growth inhibitory effect of various antioestrogens (4-hydroxytamoxifen, 4-hydroxyclomiphene or LY117018). However, retinoic acid did not affect oestradiol-induced growth stimulation. Measurement of the cellular receptors for 1,25-(OH)2D3 and oestrogen revealed no significant change in receptor levels following treatment with concentrations of retinoic acid which modulated growth. These results indicate that retinoic acid not only has direct growth inhibitory effects on breast cancer cell proliferation but also augments the effects of some other known regulators of breast cancer cell replication including 1,25-(OH)2D3 and antioestrogens. Synergism appears to involve interactions with steroid hormone action distinct from changes in steroid hormone receptor levels.