Cellular retinoic acid-binding protein (CRABP), a potential mediator of retinoic acid action, enables retinoic acid to bind in a specific manner to nuclei and chromatin isolated from testes of control and vitamin A-deficient rats. The binding of retinoic acid was followed after complexing [3H]retinoic acid with CRABP purified from rat testes. The binding was specific, saturable, and temperature dependent. If CRABP charged with nonlabeled retinoic acid was included in the incubation, binding of radioactivity was diminished, whereas inclusion of free retinoic acid, or the complex of retinol with cellular retinol binding protein (CRBP) or serum retinol binding protein had no effect. Approximately 4.0 X 10(4) specific binding sites for retinoic acid were detected per nucleus from deficient animals. The number of binding sites observed was influenced by vitamin A status. Refeeding vitamin A-deficient rats (4 h) with retinoic acid lowered the amount of detectable binding sites in the nucleus. CRABP itself did not remain bound to these sites, indicating a transfer of retinoic acid from its complex with CRABP to the nuclear sites. Further, CRBP, the putative mediator of retinol action, was found to enable retinol to be bound to testicular nuclei, in an interaction similar to the binding of retinol to liver nuclei described previously.