We investigated whether inhibition of platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) receptor tyrosine kinase activity would affect pericyte viability, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)/vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 (VEGFR-2) expression and angiogenesis in a model of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). ROP was induced in Sprague Dawley rats by exposure to 80% oxygen from postnatal (P) days 0 to 11 (with 3 hours/day in room air), and then room air from P12-18 (angiogenesis period). Shams were neonatal rats in room air from P0-18. STI571, a potent inhibitor of PDGF receptor tyrosine kinase, was administered from P12-18 at 50 or 100 mg/kg/day intraperitoneal (i.p.). Electron microscopy revealed that pericytes in the inner retina of both sham and ROP rats appeared normal; however STI571 induced a selective pericyte and vascular smooth muscle degeneration. Immunolabeling for caspase-3 and alpha-smooth muscle cell actin in consecutive paraffin sections of retinas confirmed that these degenerating cells were apoptotic pericytes. In all groups, VEGF and VEGFR-2 gene expression was located in ganglion cells, the inner nuclear layer, and retinal pigment epithelium. ROP was associated with an increase in both VEGF and VEGFR-2 gene expression and blood vessel profiles in the inner retina compared to sham rats. STI571 at both doses increased VEGF and VEGFR-2 mRNA and exacerbated angiogenesis in ROP rats, and in sham rats at 100 mg/kg/day. In conclusion, PDGF is required for pericyte viability and the subsequent prevention of VEGF/VEGFR-2 overexpression and angiogenesis in ROP.