Diabetes results in various biochemical abnormalities in the retina, but which of these abnormalities are critical in the development of retinopathy is not known. The aim of this study is to examine the effect of antioxidant supplementation on diabetes-induced alterations of retinal glutamate, and to explore the inter-relationship between alterations of retinal glutamate, oxidative stress, and nitric oxide (NO) in diabetes. Glutamate was measured in the retina at 2 months of diabetes in rats receiving diets supplemented with or without a mixture of antioxidants containing ascorbic acid, Trolox, DL alpha-tocopherol acetate, N-acetyl cysteine, beta-carotene and selenium. The relationship between glutamate, oxidative stress and NO was evaluated using both bovine retinal endothelial cells and normal rat retina. In diabetes, retinal glutamate was elevated by 40, thiobarbituric acid-reactive substances (TBARS) by 100, and NO by 70%, respectively. Administration of antioxidants inhibited the diabetes-induced increases in glutamate, TBARS and NO. Incubation of bovine retinal endothelial cells or normal rat retina with glutamate significantly increased TBARS and NO, and addition of either antioxidant (N-acetyl cysteine) or a NO synthase inhibitor prevented the glutamate-induced elevation in oxidative stress and NO. Incubation of retina with a glutamate agonist, likewise elevated oxidative stress and NO, and memantine inhibited such elevations. Thus, the alterations of retinal glutamate, oxidative stress and NO appear to be inter-related in diabetes, and antioxidant therapy may be a suitable approach to determine the roles of these abnormalities in the development of diabetic retinopathy.