To determine the effects of vitamin supplementation on the lipid-peroxidation-mediated toxicity of iron-ions on corneal endothelial cells (CECs) leading to apoptosis, murine CECs were maintained in tissue culture medium supplemented with increasing concentrations of free iron-ions, a treatment known to lead to increased lipid-peroxidation. The concentration of anti-oxidative vitamins (ascorbic acid, tocopherol and retinoic acid) in the cell supernatant and in the cells was determined by high-pressure liquid chromatography. Apoptosis was assessed by quantification of caspase-3-like activity and by using annexin-V/propidium iodide stains for flow cytometry. Lipid-peroxidation was measured by the malondialdehyde method. Supplementation with anti-oxidative vitamins was tested for the ability to counteract the induction of apoptosis. The production of nitric oxide was assessed spectrophotometrically and the expression levels of inducible and endothelial nitric oxide synthase were determined by Western blot. Increasing levels of free iron led to a rapid loss of anti-oxidative vitamins in the supernatant and in the CECs. This was correlated with rising levels of malondialdehyde and increased apoptosis. Supplementation with ascorbic acid or alpha-tocopherol alone did not prevent lipid-peroxidation in the cells. A combination of vitamins C and E (ascorbic acid, tocopherol) or solitary supplementation with vitamin A (retinoic acid) prevented lipid-peroxidation. We thus present a novel in vitro model for testing the direct influence of pro-oxidative species on CECs. We also show that supplementation with anti-oxidative vitamins to CECs significantly prevents the generation of free-radical-induced oxidative injury and apoptosis. These findings may have important implications for the storage of human corneae prior to transplantation and for the prolongation of corneal graft survival.