The aim of this study was to investigate whether the mean around which arterial oxygen fluctuations take place was important in a unique animal model of oxygen-induced retinopathy. Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is associated with fluctuating arterial oxygen. A recent retrospective study suggested that management of high-risk preterm infants at lower oxygen saturations was associated with less severe ROP. Rat pups were raised in a variable oxygen environment around a high (24%), normal (21%) or low (17%) mean inspired oxygen for 14 d. Rat pups raised in the high (24%) mean variable oxygen environment had more retarded retinal vascular development than did rats raised in an environment that fluctuated around 21% mean oxygen. In contrast, rats raised in a lower mean (17%) but still variable oxygen environment had no discernible retinal differences from controls raised in constant room air. Rats raised in a relatively hypoxic but variable oxygen environment develop less severe retinal vascular abnormalities than those raised in variable oxygen around higher oxygen means.