The primary purpose of this study was to define the clinical and morphological features of cataractogenesis in the OXYS strain of rats that generate excess reactive oxygen species. Rats were sequentially examined from birth to the development of mature cataracts with slit lamp biomicroscopy. Morphology of selected stages of cataract development was studied using light and transmission electron microscopy (TEM), immunohistochemical localization of the lipid peroxidation product 4-hydroxynonenal (HNE) and fluorescent antibody labeling for DNA oxidation products. Lenses from age-matched normal rats were used as controls. OXYS rats developed cataracts as young as two weeks of age with progression to maturity by 1 year. Clinically, cataracts appeared initially either as nuclear or sub-capsular cortical changes and progressed to pronounced nuclear cataracts within months. TEM confirmed the light microscopic impression of region-specific alterations in both fiber cell cytoplasmic protein matrix and membrane structure. The outer adult nuclear region showed extensive cellular damage similar to osmotic cataracts, which is consistent with the postulated high uptake of glucose in the OXYS strain. The adult and outer fetal nuclear cells displayed several types of focal damage. The inner fetal and embryonic nuclear cells demonstrated textured cytoplasm, suggesting protein degradation or redistribution. Staining for HNE was increased in epithelium, cortex and nucleus compared to control lenses. Fluorescent antibody probes demonstrated increased levels of DNA oxidation products in OXYS rat lenses compared to age-matched controls. Fourier analysis of nuclear cytoplasm revealed significant components with corresponding sizes greater than 100 nm and, using a new theoretical approach, the texturing of the cytoplasm was shown to be sufficient to cause opacification of the nucleus. The OXYS rat appears to be an ideal model for oxidative stress cataractogenesis. The potential oxidative damage observed is extensive and characteristic of the developmental region. The source of oxidative damage may in part be a response to elevated levels of glucose. Because oxidative stress is thought to be a major factor in cataract formation in both diabetic and non-diabetic aging humans, this animal model may be a useful tool in assessing efficacy of antioxidant treatments that may slow or prevent cataract formation.