Abstract Biochemical studies indicate that alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) metabolizes retinol to retinal, and that aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) metabolizes retinal to retinoic acid, a molecule essential for growth and development. Summarized herein are several genetic studies supporting in vivo functions for ADH and ALDH in retinoic acid synthesis. Gene targeting was used to create knockout mice for either Adh1 or Adh4. Both knockout mice were viable and fertile without obvious defects. However, when wild-type and Adh4 knockout mice were subjected to vitamin A deficiency during gestation, the survival rate at birth was 3.3-fold lower for Adh4 knockout mice. When adult mice were examined for production of retinoic acid following retinol administration, Adh1 knockout mice exhibited 10-fold lower retinoic acid levels in liver compared with wild-type, whereas Adh4 knockout mice differed from wild-type by less than 2-fold. Thus, Adh1 plays a major role in the metabolism of a large dose of retinol to retinoic acid in adults, whereas Adh4 plays a role in maintaining sufficient retinol metabolism for development during retinol deficiency. ALDHs were examined by overexpression studies in frog embryos. Injection of mRNAs for either mouse Raldh1 or Raldh2 stimulated retinoic acid synthesis in frog embryos at the blastula stage when retinoic acid is normally undetectable. Overexpression of human ALDH2, human ALDH3, and mouse Aldh-pb did not stimulate retinoic acid production. In addition, Raldh2 knockout mice exhibit embryonic lethality with defects in retinoid-dependent tissues. Overall, these studies provide genetic evidence that Adh1, Adh4, Raldh1, and Raldh2 encode retinoid dehydrogenases involved in retinoic acid synthesis in vivo.