Proliferation, cell death and differentiation occur simultaneously in developing retina and are precisely orchestrated. We have studied the effects of biotin (vitamin H) on early retinal development. In vivo administration of biotin to early embryonic chick eyes at moderately elevated levels induced malformations, affecting retina and lens structures. The effects were strictly age dependent and were only found in embryos treated between Hamburger and Hamilton stage 14-17. Biocytin, a biotin analogue, mimicked biotin effects, while avidin could block the effects. At the cellular level, biotin did not affect proliferation but reduced apoptosis. These results suggest that an adequate content of biotin and a precise regulation of retinal cell death are required for the correct morphogenesis of the eye.