Three newly synthesized benzoic acid derivatives (terephthalic acid anilides, chalcone carboxylic acid, and azobenzene carboxylic acid), with a certain structural similarity to retinoic acid, were examined for their retinoid-like bioactivity and their capacity to bind to cellular retinoid binding proteins. Two in vitro systems were used to evaluate their retinoid-like bioactivity: inhibition of adipose conversion of ST 13 murine preadipose cells and growth promotion of murine sarcoma virus (MSV)-transformed 3T3 cells in serum-free culture. All three compounds tested inhibited ST 13 adipose conversion at nanomolar concentrations in a manner similar to classical retinoids such as retinoic acid. The growth-stimulating activity of these compounds on MSV-transformed 3T3 cells was one to two orders of magnitude greater than that of retinoic acid. Simultaneous treatment with these compounds and retinoic acid produced only a barely detectable additive effect, suggesting a common mechanism of action, whereas unrelated mitogens, thrombin, and insulin worked synergistically in combination with retinoic acid. None of the compounds competed with retinol for binding to cellular retinol binding protein. However, two of the three competed with retinoic acid for binding to cellular retinoic acid binding protein. This study provides evidence that the newly synthesized compounds should be included among the retinoids and that their strong biological activity will undoubtedly contribute to the biological and medical application of retinoids.