The debate over the efficacy of vitamin E as a therapy for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) continues 45 years after it was first proposed. The discrepancies between one clinical study and another may be due to the difficulty of delivering a lipid-soluble molecule like vitamin E to the immature retina. Trolox C is a water-soluble analog of vitamin E with potent antioxidant activity. We have studied the effectiveness of intraperitoneal injection of Trolox C in an animal model of ROP. Albino rats were placed in 80% oxygen at birth where they remained for 14 d before sacrifice and assessment of retinal vasculature. Rats were administered 625 microg/kg Trolox C, or vehicle, by intraperitoneal injection on alternate days for the duration of the exposure. Other rats were simultaneously raised in room air, injected, and assessed as controls. Percent avascular retinal area, vascular leakage, and retinal capillary density were measured by computer-assisted image analysis. Trolox C-injected rats had significantly smaller avascular areas (14.6 +/- 4.8% vs. 25.4 +/- 6.3%), less leak area (0.04 +/- 0.07 mm2 vs. 0.16 +/- 0.14 mm2), and greater capillary density (24.3 +/- 2.6 pixel % vs. 18.9 +/- 3.1 pixel %) than vehicle-injected counterparts. These findings indicate that Trolox C facilitated the process of retinal vasculogenesis under hyperoxemic conditions. They also suggest that oxygen free radical-mediated damage plays a role in the pathologic effect of high oxygen rearing of newborn rats. Additional studies are warranted to determine precise site(s) and mechanism(s) of Trolox C activity in this and similar disease models in which peroxidation is believed to play a causal role.