BACKGROUND: Retinyl esters (REs), the major storage form of vitamin A (retinol), provide substrates for the production of bioactive retinoids, including retinoic acid (RA), which are known to promote lung development and maturation. We previously showed that the nutrient-metabolite combination VARA (molar ratio 10 vitamin A to 1 RA), synergistically increased REs in the lungs of 1-week-old rats, compared to vitamin A or RA alone. OBJECTIVES: To test the hypotheses, first, that VARA is more effective in increasing lung RE than is vitamin A in newborn rats prior to alveolarization, and, second, that the effect of VARA is maintained during concurrent treatment with the glucocorticoid, dexamethasone (Dex). METHODS: Newborn rats were treated with VARA, vitamin A alone, or oil (C) on postnatal days (P) 1-3, and RE in the lungs was quantified on P4, and again on P8 to assess retention. Additionally, neonatal rats were treated on P5-7 with VARA with and without Dex, and the lung and liver REs were quantified on P8. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Lung RE was nearly 8-fold higher in VARA compared to vitamin A-treated rats on P4 (p < 0.01) and 2.5-fold higher on P8. In neonates co-treated with Dex and VARA on P5-7, the elevation in lung RE on P8 by VARA was not antagonized by Dex, although Dex reduced growth. Lung morphology and development were not significantly altered. The VARA combination may significantly increase lung RE content even during concurrent Dex therapy. Because lung retinoids are important for lung maturation and repair, increasing lung RE may possibly have clinical benefit.