The impact of retinoic acid (RA) on the expression of the neural cell adhesion molecules (NCAMs) and their developmentally regulated polysialic acid (PSA) moiety was studied in embryonal carcinoma (EC) cell lines. These cell lines are known to be capable of RA-induced differentiation into neurons (murine P19 cells) or parietal endoderm (murine F9 cells), respectively. Monoclonal antibodies were employed to monitor expression of NCAM and PSA. F9 and P19 cells were both found to express NCAM but only P19 cells carried the highly polysialylated "embryonic form" of NCAM (E-NCAM). The amount of NCAM in aggregated P19 cells but not in F9 cells was dramatically increased upon treatment with RA. Since NCAMs play an important role in cell interactions during embryogenesis it is tempting to speculate that the regulative impact of RA on NCAMs is related to its morphogenic property.