The requirement for vitamin A in reproduction and development was first determined from studies of nutritional deficiencies. Subsequent research has shown that embryonic development and both male and female reproduction are modulated by retinoic acid (RA), the active form of vitamin A. Because RA is active in multiple developmental systems, its synthesis, transport, and degradation are tightly regulated in different tissues. A growing body of evidence implicates RA as a requirement for the initiation of meiosis in both male and female mammals, resulting in a mechanistic model involving the interplay of RA, RA synthesis enzymes, RA receptors, and degradative cytochrome P450 enzymes in this system. Recently, that model has been challenged, prompting a review of the established paradigm. While it remains possible that additional molecules may be involved in regulating entry into meiosis, the weight of evidence supporting a key role for RA is incontrovertible.