Malignant gliomas continue to be a significant source of mortality in young and middle aged adults. The introduction of new treatment strategies and multidisciplinary approaches has improved the outcome of patients with these tumors only slightly. Because retinoic acid has growth inhibitory activity against glioma and neuroblastoma cells in cultures, we assessed the efficacy of all-trans-retinoic acid in the treatment of recurrent cerebral gliomas. Thirty-six patients with recurrent cerebral gliomas were entered in the study and treated with 120 or 150 mg/ m2/day of all-trans-retinoic acid as a single agent. The drug was given for 3 weeks followed with one week of rest. Two blocks of 4 weeks constituted one course of treatment. One (3%) of 34 evaluable patients had a minor response and 14 (41%) had stable disease. In the rest of the patients (56%), tumors continued to progress despite treatment. The median time to progression of all evaluable patients was 8 weeks, and for the responders was 17 weeks. The higher dose level (150 mg/m2) was associated with high incidence of headache, which responded to dose reduction. The lower dose level was very well tolerated, with mild, mainly dermatological toxicity. All-trans-retinoic acid as a single agent has no significant activity against recurrent cerebral gliomas.