Retinoids, which include vitamin A (retinol) and metabolites such as retinoic acid, can inhibit tumor growth and reverse carcinogenesis in animal models of prostate cancer. We analyzed retinoid signaling and metabolism in the TRAMP (transgenic adenocarcinoma mouse prostate) model. We detected increased retinol and retinyl esters in prostates pooled from 24 to 36 week TRAMP transgenic positive mice compared to nontransgenic littermates by HPLC. We used quantitative RT-PCR to measure transcripts for genes involved in retinoid signaling and metabolism, including ALDH1A1, ALDH1A2, ALDH1A3, CYP26A1, LRAT, and RARbeta(2), in prostate tissue from TRAMP positive (+) and age-matched littermate control mice ranging from 18 to 36 weeks. Transcript levels of ALDH1A1, a putative stem cell marker, were decreased in ventral and lateral lobes of prostates from TRAMP mice compared to age-matched, nontransgenic mice. ALDH1A2 (RALDH2) mRNA levels in dorsal and anterior lobes of TRAMP+ mice were lower than in age-matched (24 week) nontransgenic mice. We detected lower RARbeta(2) mRNA levels in dorsal prostate lobes of 36 week TRAMP mice relative to nontransgenic mice. We detected high levels of ALDH1A2 protein in the cytoplasm and nucleus in nontransgenic murine prostate paraffin sections, and lower ALDH1A2 protein levels in all prostate lobes of TRAMP mice compared to nontransgenic mice by immunohistochemistry. We also detected much lower cytoplasmic ALDH1A2 protein levels in all human prostate cancer paraffin sections stained (19 total) relative to normal human prostate tissue on the same sections. Our data indicate that this reduction in ALDH1A2 protein is an early event in human prostate cancer.