Retinal photocoagulation reduces the incidence of severe visual loss in proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). Reduced levels of VEGF/VPF might result in an improved function of the blood-retina barrier and cause a decrease of blood derived intraocular growth factors such as IGF-I. This study investigates whether retinal photocoagulation is able to normalize the concentrations of IGF-I, IGF-II and IGF-BP3 in the vitreous humor of patients undergoing vitrectomy. Levels of IGFs and the permeability marker, albumin, were measured in serum and vitreous of 52 patients. Three groups were compared: controls without proliferating eye disease (n = 19) and patients with PDR with (PDR+; n = 25) and without (PDR-; n = 8) previous retinal photocoagulation. IGF-I, IGF-II, IGF-BP3 and albumin were determined by immunological methods and were confirmed to be increased in patients with PDR compared to controls. Retinal photocoagulation influenced neither the intraocular concentration of the permeability marker albumin (PDR+: 253.2 +/- 46 mg/dl; PDR-: 256.4 +/- 66.5 mg/dl) nor the levels of IGFs (PDR+: IGF-I: 1.2 +/- 0.1 ng/ml; p = 0.38; IGF-II: 34.8 +/- 2.2 ng/ml; p = 0.1; IGF-BP3: 75.7 +/- 9.7 ng/ml; p = 0.27; PDR-: IGF-I: 1.1 +/- 0.2ng/ml; IGF-II: 29.3 +/- 5.2 ng/ml; IGF-BP3: 61.5 +/- 18.3 ng/ml). Systemic levels of albumin and IGFs were not changed significantly by retinal photocoagulation. These results demonstrate that previous retinal photocoagulation in patients undergoing vitrectomy does not functionally reestablish the blood-retina barrier despite decreases in VEGF/VPF. The lack of influence on intraocular concentrations of the serum-derived growth factors, IGF-I, IGF-II and IGF-BP3, might in part explain the failure of previous photocoagulation in the investigated patients. These results suggest that a combined treatment with retinal photocoagulation and growth hormone-lowering drugs, such as somatostatin analogues, could be a useful treatment, which may prevent further loss of visual acuity in patients with PDR.