A newborn rat model of retinopathy of prematurity was used to test the hypothesis that a lack of superoxide dismutase contributes to the retinal vaso-attenuation seen during exposure of the animals to hyperoxic conditions. To determine the endogenous superoxide dismutase activity of the retina under hyperoxic conditions, litters of albino rats were placed in either constant 80% ambient oxygen (constant hyperoxia), or placed in 21% oxygen (room air) immediately after birth. Every other day, for 14 days, several rat pups were sacrificed and their retinas removed for the determination of total superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity and manganese-associated SOD activity. An attempt was made to increase retinal SOD activity by intraperitoneal administration of exogenous SOD encapsulated in polyethylene glycol-modified liposomes. Additional litters were exposed to the same oxygen treatments and supplemented twice daily with either liposome-encapsulated superoxide dismutase in saline or liposomes containing saline without SOD. Animals were sacrificed at various time points for the determination of total superoxide dismutase activity and computer-assisted analysis of vessel density and avascular area. Animals raised in an atmosphere of constant 80% oxygen had significantly reduced levels of retinal superoxide dismutase activity through 6 days of life when compared to their room air-raised littermates. At 6 days of age, daily supplementation with liposome-encapsulated SOD had significantly increased retinal superoxide dismutase activity and reduced oxygen-induced vaso-attenuation as evidenced by increased vessel density and decreased avascular area, when compared to littermates exposed to constant hyperoxia that received control liposomes. Superoxide dismutase had no adverse effects on any of the animals regardless of treatment. Tracing experiments demonstrated that liposomes entered the retina and were found in cells morphologically resembling microglia. Delivery of SOD to the retina via long-circulating liposomes proved beneficial, suggesting that restoration and/or supplementation of endogenous antioxidants in oxygen-damaged retinal tissue is a potentially valuable therapeutic strategy.