The retinoids have been investigated extensively as chemopreventive and therapeutic agents in a variety of neoplasms. They have been shown to inhibit the proliferation of transformed cell lines in vitro and transplanted tumors in vivo. In cultured murine melanoma cells, retinoids inhibit proliferation and induce differentiation. Human melanoma cell lines have shown a mixed response. The clinical experience with retinoids in melanoma has been limited. Previously we investigated the activity of topical B-all-trans-retinoic acid (Retin-A, vitamin A acid, retinoic acid, and tretinoin) against intracutaneous metastases from malignant melanoma. We saw complete remission of multiple lesions in one individual and regression of several lesions in a second patient. This experience led us to conduct the present pilot trial of topical tretinoin in dysplastic nevus syndrome. The latter is a precursor of malignant melanoma. We saw regression of some of the treated lesions to benign nevi showing minimal or no dysplasia. Thus topical tretinoin appears to possess some activity against melanoma and at least one of its precursor conditions. In view of these preliminary results, more extensive trials are warranted to better define the role of tretinoin in the chemoprevention of malignant melanoma in high-risk lesions.