Oxidative stress is a major cause of defective embryo development during in vitro culture. Retinoids are recognized as non-enzymatic antioxidants and may have an important role in the regulation of cell differentiation and vertebrate development. However, there are not enough reports discussing the antioxidant and developmental capacity of retinoids, including retinol (RT), on the in vitro development of embryos recovered from livestock animals, particularly in rabbit species. Therefore, morula embryos obtained from nulliparous Red Baladi rabbit does were cultured for 48 h in TCM199 medium in the absence of RT (control group) or in the presence of RT at concentrations of 10, 100 and 1000 nM. The developmental capacity to the hatched blastocyst stage, the antioxidant biomarker assay and the expression of several selected genes were analyzed in each RT group. The data show that RT significantly (P<0.001) promoted the embryo hatchability rate at the concentration of 1000 nM to 69.44% versus 29.71% for the control. The activity of malondialdehyde (MDA) level was significantly (P<0.05) lower in the RT groups than in the control group, while the total antioxidant capacity (TAC), superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase (GPx) activities were significantly (P<0.05) higher following treatment with RT. Furthermore, RT treatment considerably upregulated the relative expression of gap junction protein alpha 1 (GJA1), POU class 5 homeobox 1 (POU5F1) and superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) genes compared with the control group. The current study highlights the potential effects of RT as antioxidant in the culture medium on the in vitro development of rabbit embryos.