Retinoids have been shown to be effective in the chemoprevention and treatment of certain human malignancies. In this review, we will summarize our recent results concerning the effects of retinoids on the proliferation and differentiation of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-immortalized lymphoblastoid B-cell lines (LCLs), an in vitro model of EBV-related lymphoproliferative disorders arising in immunosuppressed hosts. Retinoids proved to be powerful inhibitors of the proliferation of EBV-infected LCLs in vitro, with 13-cis-retinoic acid (RA), all-trans-RA, and 9-cis-RA being the most effective compounds. Of note, retinoid-induced growth arrest in vitro appears irreversible at drug concentrations (10(-6) mol/L) which may be reached in man after oral systemic therapy. The antiproliferative activity exerted by retinoids on LCLs is a generalized phenomenon usually associated with a progressive accumulation in G0/G1 phases of treated cells. The strong upregulation of p27Kip1 invariably observed in cells exposed to retinoids may contribute to the decreased number of cycling cells, probably by inhibiting the transition from the G1 to S phase. Moreover, we obtained evidence indicating that the antiproliferative effects of retinoids are not dependent on the induction of terminal differentiation of EBV-immortalized B lymphocytes. In fact, the modifications induced by retinoids relative to LCL morphology, phenotype (downregulation of CD19, HLA-DR, and s-Ig, and upregulation of CD38 and c-Ig), and IgM production were highly variable among the lines tested and often only slightly relevant. Finally, the antiproliferative activity exerted by retinoids on LCLs is not mediated by a direct modulation of viral latent antigens, since EBNA-2 and LMP- downregulation was a late event detected only in some cell lines. These results indicate that retinoids may be useful in the medical treatment of EBV-related lymphoproliferative disorders of immunosuppressed patients, particularly in the earlier phases of these diseases.