The retinal vasculature of postmortem normal human and diabetic eyes was studied using an immunohistochemical technique in conjunction with confocal laser scanning microscopy. The technique, which stained for von Willebrand factor, allowed both large areas of the retinal vasculature to be visualised and abnormalities to be studied in detail without disturbing the tissue architecture. Only one microaneurysm, defined as any focal capillary dilation, was observed in 10 normal eyes but numerous microaneurysms were seen in 4 out of 5 diabetic retinas; counts varied between 0 and 26 per 0.41 mm2 sample area. Microaneurysms were classified into 3 categories according to morphology: saccular, fusiform and focal bulges. Most were saccular, these having no preferred orientation. The majority of microaneurysms were associated with just 2 vessels suggesting they were unlikely to develop at vascular junctions. The majority were observed to originate from the inner nuclear layer and were therefore in the deeper part of the inner retinal capillary plexus. Variation in the staining of microaneurysms may correlate with endothelial dysfunction seen clinically as dye leakage during fluorescein angiography.