Glioblastomas, the most malignant and prevalent brain tumors which remain incurable, are characterized by both extensive proliferation and invasive growth. We previously reported a remarkable antitumoral effect of the retinoid 6-OH-11-O-hydroxyphenantrene (IIF) on neuroblastoma, leukemia and colon carcinoma cells. In this study we examined the effect of IIF on proliferation, apoptosis and cell invasion in the human glioblastoma cell line U87MG, in comparison with all-trans-retinoic acid (RA). Our results showed that both retinoids induced cell growth inhibition and apoptosis in a dose- and time-dependent manner. We also demonstrated that the invasive ability of glioblastoma cells decreased after treatment with IIF or RA. Since cell invasion involves a complex system of tightly regulated proteases, matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and their specific inhibitors, tissue inhibitors of MMPs (TIMPs), we analysed the effect of IIF on MMP and TIMP expression in comparison with RA. Treatment with both retinoids resulted in a marked decrease of MMP2 and MMP9 expression and of lytic activity of MMP2. In addition, exposure to IIF led to enhanced expression of TIMP2. Collectively, our results demonstrated the effectiveness of both IIF and RA in inhibiting proliferation, cell migration, and the invasive potential of glioblastoma U87MG cells. Notably, the anticancer activity of IIF, on the whole, was more pronounced than that of RA. Therefore, these findings, besides providing further evidence that IIF may be a powerful tool in the development of cancer treatments, suggest that IIF may have therapeutic potential against the invasiveness of brain tumors.