We isolated mesenchymal cells from individual facial primordia of mouse embryos on 11 days post coitum and examined the effects of retinoic acid (RA) on chondrogenesis, induction of cell death, and the protein expression of retinoic acid receptor (RAR) β and γ in micromass culture. Under the control condition, cells of both medial and lateral nasal prominences (MNP and LNP) displayed high chondrogenic potential, while those of maxillary and mandibular prominences (Mx and Md) had constant growth activity and low chondrogenic potential. Though none of the cells expressed detectable levels of the RAR β protein, RAR γ was expressed in the cells of all the facial primordia. One μM RA inhibited the chondrogenesis, and induced cell death accompanied with the induction of the RAR β protein in LNP, MX and Md cells within 6 hr. On the contrary, both cell death and RAR β protein induction were detected in the MNP cells treated with RA for 24 hr. These results suggest that the RAR β is involved in the process of the cell death induced by the RA treatment in the mesenchymal cells of the mouse facial primordia.