Retinoic acid, one of the principle active metabolites of vitamin A (retinol), is believed to be essential for numerous developmental and physiological processes. Vitamin A deprivation (VAD) during development leads to numerous congenital defects. Previous studies of retinoic acid receptor (RAR) deficient mice failed to reveal any of these VAD-induced defects. This finding suggested that either the RARs are functionally redundant or that they are not critically required during development. In order to address these possibilities, we derived a number of RAR compound mutants. Unlike RAR single mutants, these compound null mutants died either in utero or shortly following birth. Histological analysis revealed essentially all of the defects characteristic of fetal VAD. A number of additional malformations, not described in previous VAD studies, were also observed. These included defects of the ocular and salivary glands and their ducts, the skeletal elements of the fore- and hindlimbs, and the cervical region of the axial skeleton. In addition, with the exception of derivatives forming within the first pharyngeal arch, most of the elements derived from mesectoderm emanating from cranial and hindbrain levels were affected. A number of these mutants also exhibited supernumerary cranial skeletal elements characteristics of the reptilian skull. A summary of the defects found in these RAR double mutants is presented.