In addition to having profound effects on embryonic pattern formation, retinoic acid (RA) has striking effects on differentiation and maintenance of epithelial cells in vivo and in vitro Skin is a major target organ for retinoids both in its normal and pathological states. The discovery of two human nuclear receptors for RA (hRAR alpha and hRAR beta) acting as transcriptional RA-inducible enhancer factors has provided a basis for understanding how RA controls gene expression. To investigate the specific role that RARs might play during development and in adult tissues, we have cloned the mouse RAR alpha and RAR beta (mRAR alpha and mRAR beta). Their amino-acid sequences are much more homologous to those of hRAR alpha and hRAR beta, respectively, than to each other, which suggests strongly that RAR alpha- and beta-subtypes have different functions. Most interestingly we have discovered a novel RAR subtype (mRAR gamma) whose expression in adult mouse seems to be highly restricted to skin, whereas RAR alpha and RAR beta are expressed in a variety of adult tissues. Furthermore, both mRAR alpha and mRAR gamma RNAs are readily detected in undifferentiated F9 embryocarcinoma (EC) cells, whereas mRAR beta messenger RNA is induced at least 30-fold in RA-differentiated F9 cells.