All-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA), a vitamin A derivative, is a safe and effective drug in the obtention of complete remission in acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). ATRA is able to activate the maturation of malignant cells from patients with APL either in vitro or in vivo. Complete remission was obtained without any feature of aplastic phase and the severe bleeding diathesis rapidly disappeared. The major adverse effect is the occurrence of hyperleukocytosis which is prevented by the addition of chemotherapy. A progressive acquired resistance appears during ATRA treatment and prolonged event free survival time is obtained after consolidation with cytotoxic drugs. In APL the retinoic acid receptor alpha gene is rearranged and fused with a novel gene called PML. The hybrid PML-RAR product could have a role in the leukemogenesis blocking the effect of the normal RAR on target genes. Retinoic acid exerts a differentiating effect either by the induction of a normal activity of the aberrant product in the presence of pharmacological concentration, or by an over-expression of the normal allele. The results obtained by cellular and molecular biology gave opportunities to confirm the diagnosis, to follow the assessment of the minimal residual disease and to understand the acquired resistance.