Retinoic acids (RA) are vitamin A derivatives essential for normal embryonic development and viability of vertebrates. The RA signal is mediated by two distinct classes of receptors, RA receptors (RARs) and retinoid X receptors (RXRs). The RAR family is composed of three genes: RAR alpha, beta, and gamma. The expression of RAR beta gene is spatially and temporally restricted in certain structures in the developing embryo, suggesting that RAR beta could play specific roles during morphogenesis. Four isoforms of the RAR beta gene (beta 1-beta 4) are generated by differential usage of promoters and alternative splicing. It has recently been demonstrated that the RAR beta 2 isoform is dispensable for normal development. To ascertain the function of all RAR beta isoforms in vivo, we have generated a mutation that disrupts all isoforms of the RAR beta gene in the mouse by gene targeting in embryonic stem cells. Mice homozygous for the mutation are viable and fertile with no externally apparent abnormalities. During development, 1/11 RAR beta mutant embryos showed fusion of the ninth and tenth cranial ganglia on both sides of the hindbrain. However, no obvious alterations in the spatial pattern of expression of Hoxb-1, Hoxb-4 and Hoxb-5 were observed in day 9.5 p.c. embryos. The RAR beta null mutation did not alter the pattern or extent of the limb and craniofacial malformations induced by RA excess, suggesting that RAR beta may not be mandatory to mediate the observed teratological effects of RA in these structures. These experiments demonstrate that RAR beta isoforms are not absolutely required for embryonic development and provide additional support to the concept of functional redundancy among members of the RAR family.