The biological actions of retinoids are mediated by nuclear retinoic acid receptors (RARs) and retinoid X receptors (RXRs). We have recently reported that decreased expression of RARα and RXRα has an important role in high glucose (HG)-induced cardiomyocyte apoptosis. However, the regulatory mechanisms of HG effects on RARα and RXRα remain unclear. Using neonatal cardiomyocytes, we found that ligand-induced promoter activity of RAR and RXR was significantly suppressed by HG. HG promoted protein destabilization and serine-phosphorylation of RARα and RXRα. Proteasome inhibitor MG132 blocked the inhibitory effect of HG on RARα and RXRα. Inhibition of intracellular reactive oxidative species (ROS) abolished the HG effect. In contrast, H(2)O(2) stimulation suppressed the expression and ligand-induced promoter activity of RARα and RXRα. HG promoted phosphorylation of ERK1/2, JNK and p38 MAP kinases, which was abrogated by an ROS inhibitor. Inhibition of JNK, but not ERK and p38 activity, reversed HG effects on RARα and RXRα. Activation of JNK by over expressing MKK7 and MEKK1, resulted in significant downregulation of RARα and RXRα. Ligand-induced promoter activity of RARα and RXRα was also suppressed by overexpression of MEKK1. HG-induced cardiomyocyte apoptosis was potentiated by activation of JNK, and prevented by all-trans retinoic acid and inhibition of JNK. Silencing the expression of RARα and RXRα activated the JNK pathway. In conclusion, HG-induced oxidative stress and activation of the JNK pathway negatively regulated expression/activation of RAR and RXR. The impaired RAR/RXR signaling and oxidative stress/JNK pathway forms a vicious circle, which significantly contributes to hyperglycemia induced cardiomyocyte apoptosis.