Abstract We studied the effects of oral administration of the retinoid, 4-hydroxyphenyl retinamide (4-HPR), on group A streptococcal cell wall-induced polyarthritis in the rat, a model characterized initially by exudative inflammation of peripheral joints followed by crronic proliferative/erosive synovitis. Experimental arthritis was induced in female LEW/N rats by i.p. injection of streptococcal cell walls in saline (15 μg/g body weight). Depending upon the experiment, continuous daily oral administration of the retinoid was begun either 14 days prior to induction of the disease, at the time of cell wall administration and/or 11 days and 31 days after cell wall injection. Dosage was either 1 or 2 mmol 4-HPR/kg of chow. During the course of the disease, severity of clinical illness was assessed by determination of clinical severity index, by histological or radiologic examination, and by measurement of production in vitro of collagenase and prostaglandin E 2 by excised synovial tissue. In rats fed the retinoid prior to cell wall injection, both the acute and the chronic responses were suppressed. In rats given the retinoid at the time of cell wall injection, the acute inflammatory response was only partially suppressed on the diet containing 2 mmol 4-HPR/kg chow, but the chronic disease was impressively inhibited in a dose dependent manner. Similarly, in animals with established disease, the drug was also effective; however, the more advanced the illness, the less effective the drug. Clinical observations were paralleled by the histological, radiographical and biochemical analyses. Treated animals showed far less synovial proliferation and joint destruction, and synovial tissues taken from these rats produced lesser amounts of collagenase and prostaglandin E 2. No significant toxicity of the retinoid was noted. We conclude that oral administration of 4-HPR suppresses, in a dose and time dependent manner, both the acute and chronic stages of streptococcal cell wall-induced arthritis in rats without apparent significant toxicity. Our data suggest that studies of the effects of this retinoid on patients with chronic inflammatory synovitis are warranted.