Vitamin A (retinoic acid) inhibited polyoma virus replication in confluent mouse embryo cells. A significant, dose dependent inhibition was observed when cell monolayers were pretreated with concentrations of vitamin A (10-8 to 10-6 M) thought to approximate those found in vivo. This inhibitory effect could be reduced by increasing the input multiplicity of infection. Growth curves of polyoma virus in the presence and absence of vitamin A suggested that vitamin A actually inhibited, and did not simply delay, virus replication. The cell density dependence of this inhibitory effect suggested its association with the prevailing level of cellular DNA synthesis. Vitamin A caused a significant decrease in overall (viral plus cellular) DNA synthesis. Other viruses which do not require induction of host cell DNA synthesis for their replication in confluent, non-dividing cells were not inhibited by vitamin A. These results are consistent with the known inhibitory effects of vitamin A on papovavirus infection in vivo and suggest a mechanism of vitamin A action at the level of the infected cell. © 1984 Academic Press, Inc.